NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A Tennessee lawmaker is challenging the power of the six independent health departments in the state when it comes to public health emergencies.
Representative Jason Zachary, a Republican representing Knoxville, has filed legislation for 2021 session which would give final authority to county mayors and limit boards of health to advisory roles.
Currently, Tennessee has six health departments where boards have the authority to respond to health emergencies. As seen during the current COVID-19 pandemic, these health departments can break from state response measures to address their individual communities.
Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan Counties are currently the six counties which can work independently from the state. In a statement release on H.B. 7, Rep. Zachary's bill, the lawmaker says he believes it would reduce bureaucracy and create more consistency.
“Elected representatives in the legislative and executive branches are accountable to those who have entrusted them to serve, and they should make all final decisions during these situations, based upon advice from our public health experts,” said Rep. Zachary. “This legislation reduces bureaucracy and ensures accountability with constituents by moving unelected boards into advisory roles, which will make responses to health emergencies more consistent across the state.”
Governor Bill Lee has extended his orders allowing county mayors in the state to make their own decisions when it comes to policies such as mask mandates, an approach the governor believes is more effective than statewide mandates.
Governor Lee's powers during an emergency have also been the subject of examination. A Special Ad Hoc Committee Studying Emergency Powers has reviewed Tennessee’s Emergency Powers Act. The act currently allows Gov. Bill Lee broad authority of the state's response to COVID-19. Lawmakers said the coronavirus pandemic has provided a unique circumstance where powers and procedures are being carried out that are rarely used. They believe a review of executive powers will help Tennessee during the pandemic and in future crisis.
Dr. Alex Jahangir, Board Chair for the Metro Health Department issued the following statement on the bill:
"I will leave the politics to the politician, but this bill probably won’t impact Nashville as much as other counties given our metro government structure in which the city and county mayor is the same person. With Mayor Cooper, we currently have someone that listens to subject matter experts and studies and understands the science and best practices before making a decision. My hope and belief is that the people of Nashville will always elect leaders to the office that follow a similar process when addressing situations. Our board of health is comprised of 6 people who have extensive professional experience in public health and health care, and the composition of the Board was intentional to ensure this level of competency. It is this competency that the Mayor and our residents have relied on to help keep our city healthy for the past 57 years."
See the bill below or CLICK HERE: