On Tuesday’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed his weekly regular guest and all-star panelist Tennessee state Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) to the newsmakers line.
During the second hour, Roberts weighed in on Governor Lee’s recent order which allowed law enforcement access to private citizens’ COVID-19 test results. He expressed his disagreement with the order and suggested Lee show leadership by undeclaring a state of emergency.
Leahy: We are joined now by our very good friend. All-star panelist and State Senator Kerry Roberts. Good morning Kerry.
Roberts: Good morning. You caught me with my mouth full of food. (Laughs)
Leahy: Well, it’s always good to eat breakfast in the morning.
Roberts: Yes it is. (Laughs)
Leahy: I called you early Saturday morning because there was something very troubling I discovered late Friday night. And that was that Governor Lee had authorized the disclosure of positive COVID-19 test results for any individual to law enforcement. The local law enforcement has to sign a memorandum of understanding about the use of this information.
But to me, it seemed to be an egregious violation of the Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) as well as the right to privacy of every individual. I think your initial reaction to this was somewhat similar to mine. The story has moved forward since then. Scott Cepicky the state representative from Murray County has written a letter to the governor saying you need to stop this. Where are you on this now Kerry?
Roberts: Well, I don’t agree with it. I probably had a little bit more of an understanding of the rational. But I don’t agree with it at all. Fundamentally before you get caught up in the details we have to ask ourselves this question. Doe the state of emergency still exists?
Because when we have a state of emergency Title 58 of the Tennessee code applies and one of the things it allows to occur is the regular process of reviewing rules and regulations to be suspended. So you can enact emergency rules. So under normal circumstances this policy, if you will, would be reviewed by the government operations committee.
It would have people for and against it to give testimony. And it would receive a thorough vetting. And I’m sure from the administration’s standpoint well we already done this with HIV. We already do it to some extent with tuberculosis and that HIPAA does have a very narrow exception for law enforcement. Then you bring in somebody else who says this could be easily abused. You’ve got privacy concerns here.
What are you going to do with the lists when you’re done? Then you have the first responders that come in that say, “Hey we’re the ones that insisted on this and wanted it and the health department pushed back but they finally gave in.” A judge would not hear a case by only letting the prosecutor present his argument and the defense attorney cannot.
Leahy: Unless it was a FISA court right?
Roberts: Right. Yes. But we digress.
Leahy: Yeah exactly.
Roberts: They aren’t going to listen to the defense attorney and say I only want to hear one side of the story. That’s the point of the rule review. You don’t just hear one side of the story. You get thoroughly vetted. And under normal circumstances, I don’t see that this would be approved. This begs the question of are we still in a state of emergency and is this still justified?
When the state of emergency was declared it was declared under the very well-intended assumption that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people were going to die in America if we didn’t stop what we were doing and deal with this. And none of this has come to pass. As I have said repeatedly that one of the most telling things is Walmart, Target, Lowes, etc those workers don’t have any higher instances than anybody else does and that they’re the ones who get more exposed in an eight-hour shift than anybody else would.
They don’t even have PPE for the most part. I think its a bad idea. I think it’s going too far. And I think it needs to be backtracked along with a couple of other things that they’re suggesting. And we have no idea. I think this decision was made on April 9. I’m not sure why we weren’t told. Not a whole lot of feedback on it.
Leahy: The governor said that they sent state legislators a memo on April 3 that said that they were doing something in this but they didn’t say we’re going to be giving it to law enforcement apparently.
Roberts: To the memo, maybe they did and maybe we missed it. But here’s the thing that you’ve got to look at too. When you are in an emergency situation and you have the authority to make a decision that’s fine. But you know the other expression, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. If you are making this kind of decision you don’t call up your General Assembly and inform them after the fact of what you’ve done or you’ve decided to do.
Leahy: If you’re Governor Lee apparently you do that but only after the press calls you out on it.
Roberts: Well there are years of collective wisdom in the Tennessee General Assembly and there is a reason that we have three branches of government. And its the mechanism by which decisions are made that change the authority to make decisions. But just think about it. When some of this originated, what if North Korea had detonated an E&P in North America and wiped out our grid. Or some doomsday scenario. That’s whats Title 58 was written for.
Leahy: Big earthquakes and some craziness happens.
Roberts: Right right right. And this at the front end of it based on the assumptions. On the front end of it, it’s what it looked like. But it’s not turned into that. So at what point in time do you say, “You know what the medical experts were wrong so let’s roll it back.” And I think we’re at that point.
I think we’re very clearly at that point. There’s not been any run on the hospital beds like we thought. We didn’t run out of ventilators. We didn’t run out of medical personnel. And in fact, hospitals are laying people off because they weren’t allowed to elective surgeries. You got people who put off medical tests. You’ve got people who lost their jobs.
Very early on people were saying let’s not let the cure be worse than the disease and that’s exactly where we are right now. At some point, we’ve got to say its time to un-declare the state of emergency. And why shouldn’t Tennessee be the first state in the nation to do that? We talk about Tennessee being a leader.
It’s a great opportunity for Governor Lee to show leadership. Let’s say to the rest of America, you know these medical experts apparently didn’t know what they were talking about and its time to un-declare the state of emergency, and let’s put America back to work with added protection for the elderly and fragile and who are absolutely are vulnerable.
Leahy: People who live in nursing homes.
Roberts: Let’s everything in our power to give them the care and protection and safety and security they need. But let’s let everybody else go back to work. Just like that Walmart, Target, or Kroger clerk who’s been working this entire time without PPE and the benefit of social distancing. And all these other meaningless things they’ve done in retail. Anybody that’s been to a crowded Walmart knows that social distancing experiment does not work in Walmart despite they’re best efforts.
Leahy: Just a side note. There is a union of grocery workers out there. I forget the name of it.
Leahy: Some amalgamated something. 1.3 million workers and they’ve done a test and found of 1.3 million workers like 50 of them have died of COVID-19 which is a very very low rate. That’s the point Kerry that you’ve been making since the beginning of this pandemic.
Roberts: You know what? I have. And I don’t say that with any kind of I told you so glee or anything.
Leahy: That’s alright. I’ll say it for you, Kerry. Kerry Roberts told us so! (Laughs)
Roberts: The point is this. I’ve said this before and I don’t mean to step on the toes of anyone in the medical profession but I’m going to segregate the medical “experts” from the medical professionals. I’m not talking about medical professionals. I’m talking about medical academic and intellectual elite experts. I’ve learned to roll my eyes at them when they come in and give testimony because they speak in the most extreme terms and when you challenge them or question them because they get so indignant.
Leahy: Got to save that one life!
Roberts: And you know every single life is precious.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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