State Representative Jason Zachary from Knoxville has introduced a bill designed to limit the authority of independent health departments in the State.
In an interview with The Tennessee Conservative, Zachary stated, “These health boards have basically been given legislative and executive authority. This bill addresses this. I don’t see this bill as a partisan issue- I don’t see it as a left or right issue.”
“Under TCA-68, the unelected boards have the power to make laws and apply penalties even during times of non-emergency. The COVID-19 crisis made all this come to the surface. This is a crack in the very foundation of our fundamental structure of government and it should concern every Tennessean,” said Zachary.
Zachary’s legislation is aimed to balance the need for county executives to make decisions based on advice of public health experts but still remain directly accountable to their constituents.
“Any executive, whether it’s a company, whether it’s a county, has to have different people around them to help them make the best possible decision,” Zachary said. “But the reality is that we do live in a republic, where our form of government is built on three branches. … We do not have a bureaucratic, unelected branch,” Zachary said.
Tennessee’s independent health departments include those in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan Counties.
If passed, House Bill 7, will give County Mayors the final authority in establishing and implementing policies in response to a health emergencies.
The bill would also give Mayors the authority to transition county health directors, health officers, and health boards to a strictly advisory role.
District 27 Representative Patsy Hazlewood stated, “While medical expertise and input should definitely be a part of the decision-making process, I don’t believe unelected bodies or individuals should have that authority. If my local elected officials are in agreement with the bill, and if that is what it truly does, I will support it.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton also supports the legislation.
“Traveling across Tennessee, I have heard from many people and businesses in our larger counties who are all frustrated with the lack of communication from these unelected bureaucrats,” Sexton said in a statement. “Their restrictive policies only continue to hamper our statewide recovery efforts and cause further damage to the Tennessee business community.”
District 26 Representative Robin Smith stated,” I am opposed to unelected individuals making sweeping policy that have impacts on not just the public health of individuals but their livelihoods. I am inclined to support efforts to protect Tennesseans from far-reaching policies that, while having good intentions, are not legislatively vetted.”
“Policies being made in this current response to COVID cases have a material impact on the livelihood of Tennesseans as well as our inalienable rights. The balance is critical and demands legislative debate and deliberation not just unilateral decision-making,” Smith said.
Representative Zachary stated, “The process for the bill will begin in January but it may take 4 or 5 weeks to get it on the floor. Governor Lee has already told me he is ready to sign it, so, hopefully, we will get this passed no later than February.”
In May, Representative Zachary and several other state representatives sent an open letter to the Knox County Health Department Director, Doctor Martha Buchanan urging her to allow the county to follow Governor Lee’s guidance and remove additional COVID-19 restrictions.
However, due to the authority given to the independent health department, all the elected officials could do was request compliance.
The Tennessee Conservative will publish updates to this developing story as they become available.