GOP legislator moves to ban mask mandates despite spending 55 days on a ventilator due to COVID-19

A Tennessee Republican who survived the coronavirus and a molestation scandal is now fighting mask mandates in schools.

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) spent 55 days on a ventilator and received a liver transplant after testing positive for the coronavirus the day before Thanksgiving, but he joined all 73 members of the House Republican caucus in asking Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session to prohibit local mask mandates and prevent businesses from banning unvaccinated customers, reported The Daily Beast.

"Please pray for God's healing for my lungs, and that He will give me strength and endurance as I battle this virus," Byrd said in a Dec. 7 statement. "My wife and family prayed for a miracle while facing the very real prospect of planning my funeral."

Byrd survived but missed the entire legislative session, but he signed on to the letter asking the GOP governor to convene the special session so legislators can prevent local governments and business owners from taking steps to prevent the spread of the pandemic that nearly cost his life and made "every breath ... an agony."

"We believe there is a need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials, confirm a parent's right to make decisions that impact the mental and physical health of their children, provide support and direction to schools to ensure educators are properly compensated for COVID-19 leave, and protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates designed to limit their ability to make their own decisions," the letter said.

Byrd, who prefers to be address as Coach Byrd, was recorded apologizing to one of two former students who accused him of molesting them when he worked as a girls' high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

"I can promise you one thing, I have been so sorry for that," he says in a recording that surfaced in 2018. "I've lived with that and you don't know how hard it has been for me."

A third student also said he tried to molest her, but Byrd refused calls to resign by then-Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell.

"I have done nothing wrong or inappropriate during my term as state representative," he said at the time.

Byrd went on to join 55 GOP legislators who signed a resolution in June 2020 accusing the media of sensationalizing COVID-19 for political reasons, and he attended a three-day retreat at a state park -- where many went without masks -- and tested positive for the virus a short time later.