A New Bill Proposed By Tennessee Representative Jason Zachary Would Give County Mayors Across The State More Power Over Policies During A Response To Any Health Emergencies. In Doing So, It Would Also Limit The Authority Of Independent Health Departments.
Photo: Tennessee Representative Jason Zachary, (R) Knox County, explains the purpose of House Bill 0007 to the Health Committee.
Photo Credit: tn.gov
Published March 4, 2021
House Bill 0007 states, “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.”
The purpose of the new legislation is to balance out advice received from health professionals and the need for mayors to remain accountable.
“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. 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,” Representative Jason Zachary said.
HB 0007 would allow county mayors to have the final say in creating and implementing policies for health emergencies. It would also allow them to transition certain health officials into advisory roles.
The house bill reads that “If a county experiences a county-wide health emergency, including, without limitation, a state-wide declaration of the existence of a health epidemic, a county-wide epidemic, or the imminent threat of an epidemic, resulting in the need for health policies that affect the entire county, the county mayor shall and has the exclusive authority to establish and implement such policies under advisement from the county health director or county health officer, or both, as necessary. In a county with a county board of health or a health committee, or both, such bodies also become advisory to the county mayor.”
Currently, the six counties mentioned in the bill have unelected or appointed health officials on a board with the power to issue health directives. If the bill passes, that power will be redirected to county mayors.
According to Zachary, “In state government, the Department of Health Commissioner Piercey advises the governor, the governor makes the final decision.”
The six counties would operate under a similar system with HB 0007. Sullivan County is the only one that acts under a health director instead of a board. At the moment, the director can act against what the mayor advises.
Sullivan County Mayor, Richard Venable, explained that “The medical director of Sullivan County is appointed by the Mayor and ratified by the county commission.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton has also shown support for the bill, stating, “The independent health boards are unrestricted with their autonomy and control, and their unchecked actions are further damaging businesses in areas like Davidson, Knox, and Shelby Counties. I appreciate Chairman Zachary for his hard work and for his desire to continue standing with our business and community leaders. Together, we will ensure a strong economic recovery across all three grand divisions of our state.”
After discussion in the Health Committee, yesterday, March 3rd, the Bill was placed on the Calendar and Rules Committee for today, March 4th.
The Tennessee Conservative will post updates as new information surfaces.