Photo Credit: Gov. Bill Lee / Facebook
Published August 24, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Over the past 18 months, Tennesseans have endured remarkable hardships created by regulations and government intervention in response to COVID.
When Governor Lee signed Executive Order 84, giving parents the ability to opt their child out of a local mask mandate enacted by a school or health board, he also declined calling a Special Session of the legislature leaving a number of concerns raised by the 73 House Republicans who called for the session unanswered.
With the Executive Order issued, the pressure appears to be off to call a Special Session to address other issues that Tennessee conservatives are very concerned about including – the prolonged state of emergency and the sunsetting of the governor’s emergency powers, school boards and health boards who defy the will of the electorate, and medical freedom abuses by private and public organizations.
The Tennessee Conservative reached out to the TN GOP for them to weigh in as co-equal branch of government about these issues that seem to be unresolved or in conflict.
Representative Scott E. Cepicky (Culleoka) said, “Wow, where do I start? I agree with all of these and there may be a few more issues we need to address like contact tracing in our schools and business. I hope both Speakers realize the magnitude of the issues and bring us back in to session to start deliberating the solutions for Tennessee. The longer we stay under these executive orders the more the abnormal will become the normal. The General Assembly makes law, not the executive branch. We look forward to the discussions that the people of Tennessee want us to have so they can get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Senator Mike Bell (Riceville) said, “I’m for a special session. The parameters of a possible session will be negotiated between the House, Senate, and the Governor’s office.”
Representative Dan Howell (Cleveland) said he is in support of a special session as well.
“I was one of 73 House members who signed Speaker Sexton’s letter to the Governor requesting he call a special session,” Howell said.
Representative Lowell Russell (Vonore) also signed the Speaker’s letter to Governor Lee in support of a special session and states that he remains supportive, should the call for a special session come.
Regarding the Governor’s Emergency Powers, Representative Jason Zachary (Knoxville) stated that “The House passed HB 869 last during Session. It creates parameters around the Executive Powers during a state of emergency. The Senate has to act in 2022 in order for the legislation to go to the Governor for signature.”
In regards to School Boards & Health Boards defying the electorate, Zachary said, “HB 575 moved the health boards to advisory. We must address the 6 independent health departments that are still creating confusion by issuing orders that are not consistent with the vast majority of the states.”
Zachary agreed that private and public organizations have abused Tennessean’s medical freedoms and said, “We hope to address in a special session in September. The Governor must make the special session call as broad as possible.”
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Representative Rusty Grills (Newbern) focused in on the unconstitutionality of mandates in his reply.
“As an elected representative for the state of Tennessee it is my duty to defend and protect the God-given rights that are enshrined in our state’s founding document. Within the Tennessee State Constitution, it is written that ‘no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience,’ and the decision to vaccinate or not is a ‘right of conscience’ in my humble opinion,” Grills stated.
“Forcing such a mandate is not only unwise for businesses at a time when labor shortages are high, it is inappropriate and unfair. Every person has the absolute right to autonomy over what is injected into their body. Let’s not force Tennessee’s employees to make medical decisions in conflict with their values. Rather, lets continue to support our employees and judge them on the merit of their work and the value they bring to our businesses for a job well-done,” Grills concluded.
Representative Tim Rudd (Murfreesboro) said, “”I do not believe the Emergency Powers legislation passed by the General Assembly does or should include health-related situations. It was meant primarily for natural disasters such as flooding, wild fires, nuclear, tornadoes, etc.
Any power granted to the executive branch should be limited and have a limited duration such as 30-60 days. Anything beyond that would require recalling the legislature.”
Regarding School and Health Boards defying the will of the electorate, Rudd said, “School boards, municipalities, counties and health departments serve at the pleasure of the state legislature who granted their charters and authority. The legislature can and should exercise more authority over these entities when needed. When these entities go rough and disavow the will of the people and of the legislature, they need to be dealt with. We can revoke their charters, cut funds, alter rules and laws. We have a small handful of counties and cities that keep poking the bear. Eventually, the bear will bite.”
Rudd went on to say that he is “100% against forced or coerced vaccinations,” and against vaccine passports as well. He stated that he does not feel a business has the right to terminate an employee that refuses to take a vaccination unless that was a condition of their original employment.
Expressing his support for a Special Session, Rudd said, “I signed on to a special session to deal with vaccines, masks and possible limits on executive powers. The State House is signed on. Most of the State Senate leadership and the Governor are against a special session. Two thirds of the house and two thirds of the senate must agree or the governor can call on his own. The house is onboard. The two other branches are not at this point.”
Rudd took it a step farther by stating, “It has been talked about for years; having an automatic mid-year session of the legislature in August. If government bureaucrats, the judiciary and special interests all know we are coming back, they are less likely to misbehave or violate the rights of the public. I’m in agreement with having a short mid-year session every year.”
Regarding the Governor’s Emergency Powers, Representative John Ragan (Oak Ridge) said, “This is an issue I (and several other legislature members) previously raised as a member of last year’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on the governor’s emergency powers under Title 68. In my opinion, the full committee failed to take a strong enough position on this issue despite ardent exhortations by some members. Notwithstanding this issue, Chairman Jason Zachary (Knoxville) and I sponsored bills this past spring intended to limit some of these powers.”
Ragan is referring to the following bills:
• Ragan – HB0575 – Public Health – As enacted, removes authority from county boards of health in relation to enforcement and adoption of rules and regulations and instead makes the board advisory to the county mayor for such purposes; defines quarantine for purposes of the present law provisions governing quarantine; prohibits state or local governmental official, entity, department, or agency requiring physical documentation or digital storage of protected health information related to an individual’s immunization or vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of entering upon the premises of a state or local government entity, or utilizing services provided by a state or local government entity. Passed. became Pub. Ch. 550.
• Zachary – HB0007 – Public Health – As introduced, specifies that the county mayor has the authority to establish and implement health policies that affect the entire county during a county-wide health emergency; directs the county health director, health officer, and board of health to provide advice to the mayor to develop the policies; applies only in Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan, and Madison counties. Received from House, Passed on First Consideration.
• Zachary – HB0247 – Governor – As introduced, requires the governor to notify the speakers of the senate and house of representatives at least five days prior to the renewal of a declaration of a state of emergency. Withdrawn. 2/10/2021
• Zachary – HB0248 – Public Health – As introduced, requires the county health officer to have been licensed to practice for at least four years. P2C, caption bill, held on desk – pending amdt. 2/10/2021
• Zachary – HB0249 – Public Health – As introduced, reduces the term for county board of health members from four years to three years. Withdrawn. 2/8/2021
• Zachary – HB0250 – Public Health – As introduced, reduces from 60 days to 30 days the time period after an action, in which a chief administrative official of a hospital must report a disciplinary action taken against a person licensed under Title 63 or Title 68, when the disciplinary action is related to professional ethics, professional incompetence or negligence, moral turpitude, or drug or alcohol abuse. Withdrawn. 2/8/2021
Regarding School Boards defying the will of the electorate, Ragan said, “School Boards are elected by the citizens of the school district over which they officiate. Consequently, the voters have the ability to change any boards that defy their electorate’s will for action. Such requires political will of the people in those districts.”
“For the independent health departments, see the above discussion on HB 575 that I sponsored,” Ragan said, “For all other county health departments, they must follow the guidance of the state health department. This organization is answerable to the governor as part of the executive branch.”
“Notwithstanding the county health department’s subordination to the state department, the General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee has oversight authority over this situation. As chair of the committee, I have indeed, had Commissioner Piercy before us in public hearing. Changes have resulted… However, in my opinion, more are needed. This is an issue I will continue to pursue.” Ragan said.
Regarding medical freedom abuses by private and public organizations, Ragan said, “In HB 575, I included language prohibiting any state government entity, at any level, from mandating a private individual or business to require a COVID-19 vaccination passport.”
However, Ragan states that requiring private individuals or businesses not to do so under penalty of law raised some constitutional issues.
“Therefore, until we can craft a bill that avoids such constitutional infringements, private entities can do as they choose in this situation,” Ragan said, “Individuals who cannot take vaccines medically or object for religious reasons or cannot wear masks for medical reasons have a civil cause of action if these organizations refuse accommodation. Unfortunately, such would require engaging a lawyer and going through the folderal of a civil suit.”
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 news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com