Bill Placing Health Departments Under State Control Passes Without Governor’s Signature

Photo Credit: Gov. Bill Lee / Facebook

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

When Governor Bill Lee signed the sweeping COVID-19 legislation last week, he chose not to sign a bill that would remove county health departments from local control. He returned the legislation to the General Assembly without his approval.

That did not keep it from becoming a law, however. Because he returned it without a veto, it automatically became law without his signature.

Governor Lee issued a statement explaining why he opted not to sign the bill at this time.

“I have spoken with Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Sexton and am not signing this bill as it requires significant updates to account for the non-pandemic functions of public health departments,” Lee said. “We are committed to working together to address these changes during the regular session.”

The General Assembly’s fiscal review committee had also warned Lee that the new law could potentially leave the state at risk of losing $2.5 billion in federal funding.

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The bill in question would give the governor power over all county health departments in the state. Six of those health departments – in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties – currently function independently, managed by the local government. The directors of those health departments would be appointed by the state health commissioner under the new proposal.

The bill would also limit health departments from issuing any health orders during a pandemic. Those orders could only come directly from the state health commissioner.


The directors of those local health departments are not happy about the potential change, although they have been forced to make some changes under the new provisions.

Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department issued a statement saying that they had revised their mask order from a requirement to a recommendation.

“Lower case numbers, rising vaccination rates, and a change in state law have led Metro to revise its mask policy for Metro facilities,” said Brian Todd, spokesperson for the department. 

Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department, was critical of the legislation, saying that It was be “extremely harmful” to the public.

“I tell you that if the governor signs this law, every decision we make in a pandemic will have to go through Nashville,” said Taylor in an interview with The Commercial Appeal. “We will have to run all decisions based upon local lives, life and death situations, through Nashville. If we have another impending collapse of our health system, we will have to call Nashville first.”

Governor Lee has noted that there is a “joint commitment” between his office and the General Assembly to work on “necessary updates” to the bill in their planned January session.


About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at

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