ATLANTA — Legislation extending COVID-19 liability protection to Georgia businesses and hospitals until July 14 of next year cleared the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Lawmakers voted 99-68 along party lines to extend the sunset on a bill the General Assembly passed last June shielding businesses and health-care facilities in Georgia from lawsuits brought by people who contract COVID-19 in all but the worst negligence or recklessness cases.
Republicans, who hold the majority, argued businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open amid the ongoing pandemic.
“While they’re being attacked by the virus, what we don’t need is for them to be attacked by frivolous lawsuits,” said House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, the bill’s chief sponsor.
But Democrats countered that while the legislation looks out for the interests of Georgia businesses, it doesn’t protect essential workers forced to stay on the job at the risk of exposure to the virus.
“They have sustained our economy throughout the pandemic, yet we have no protections in place for these workers … forced to work in unsafe conditions,” said Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta.
Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, said the legislation is unnecessary.
“We haven’t had waves of lawsuits crippling our small businesses,” he said. “There hasn’t been a single recovery.”
Kelley responded that his bill will help the very front-line workers Democrats were defending because keeping businesses open means they will keep getting paychecks.
“Who’s going to take up for these employees when they don’t have any jobs to go to?” he asked.
Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, said the liability shield also protects Georgia hospitals and other health-care facilities as they struggle to maintain bed capacity and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
“This measure will allow health-care providers to continue to stay focused on the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.
Last year’s legislation extends COVID-19 liability protection only through July 14 of this year. The proposed one-year extension now moves to the state Senate.