Live from Music Row Friday morning on The 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. – host Leahy welcomed Speaker Cameron Sexton to the newsmaker line to discuss a current bill addressing independent health boards and the General Assembly’s priorities to keep Tennessee the great state that it is.
Leahy: Michael Patrick Leahy here. And in the studio with me is Crom Carmichael. And on the newsmaker line our good friend Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Cam Sexton. Welcome, Speaker Sexton.
Sexton: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
Leahy: Well, we’re always delighted to have you on. And you have a very important bill you want to talk about here. I guess this is the bill that Jason Zachary has as introduced.
Sexton: Yes. Representative Zachary has filed a piece of legislation concerning the independent health boards, the six all across the state of Tennessee, and moving them from being the key decision-maker and moving them into more of an advisory role working and collaborating with the mayors. And we’ve had issues in Shelby County yesterday, which makes this bill even more important now on that help for down there because of what Memphis is trying to do during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Leahy: Well, that’s very interesting. And this has been something that has been I think bothersome to me for some time with these six larger health boards who act almost, you know virtually independently. And sometimes their conduct seems to me to be a bit suspect and a bit partisan. That’s my view. Not yours.
Sexton: Well, you know, I think what they’re doing is as happens sometimes with the bureaucracy or bureaucrats when they understand that they have more power than the elected officials and control and there’s no checks and balances with them then they start really taking on that authority more than what they probably would have. And yesterday Shelby County is starting to align itself with California and the practices that they’re doing.
Which is you know, they’re recommending that if you are at a restaurant, you take your mask down and put in a piece of food and put it back up and chew. And then they even went as far as saying yesterday that you shouldn’t have extended family at Thanksgiving. And then they took it one step further and said if you’re a business and you don’t follow our rigid guidelines and you have complaints or violations, then we’re going to come in and we’ll close your business for two weeks.
Carmichael: To your point about taking authority that they either don’t have or shouldn’t have I think that is a great point. And Neil Gorsuch wrote about that in a book called A Republic If You Can Keep It where it says that the legislature and the people who are elected are the ones who need to make these types of decisions because they’re answerable to the voters. And you have bureaucrats who are making decisions that are going to put people out of business and destroy lives.
And I agree with you. They should not have the authority to make that kind of decision. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that the mayor of the other city should be able to destroy businesses. But if I have to pick between the two, the health board that’s not answerable to the voters is a terrible place to vest authority that could close businesses.
Sexton: Right. So I mean if you look at this in the big picture, what you have is this one side the people saying, oh you need to let the health experts or the scientists tell you what decisions to make. And you need to listen to them or they need to have the authority to do that. That’s what you hear. Okay. Well, if you do that then why do you need elected officials? Because why don’t you just get a panel of economic advisers and let them set the policy without the elected officials.
The role of the elected official is to weigh everything which is related to health concerns. Science. The public. The businesses. And the families. And they make a decision based on everything. Not just on one thing which would-be scientists and health medical experts. And so, you know, it should lie with someone who’s held accountable at the ballot box and not someone who’s an unelected bureaucrat. And if the public doesn’t like the way the mayor does things, at least there’s a form of accountability with an election process and you can go through to remove them.
Carmichael: And Mr. Speaker right before you came on I actually was citing an article that had been in Nature Magazine where they base their data on data that was collected from the end of April to the middle of June. And the article claimed that mask-wearing would save 130,000 lives if 85 percent of people wore masks.
It turns out that the data that they used was so old that if they had used current data which shows that 80 percent of people are actually compliant already their whole article and whole thesis would have blown up. And these are so-called scientists who are writing these articles that are based on facts and not in evidence. And in fact, they are just false.
And that’s what I fear is that it’s that you have people who are unelected. And frankly, they’re just unelected bureaucrats who have an educational degree that may or may not mean that they’re wise. And so I’m 100 percent behind you that that that those people should not have the power to make any decision over any individual and it should be left up to the elected officials.
Sexton: No, I agree. And what I will say is you have people who are saying that Tennessee needs a mask mandate and I applaud Governor Lee for standing strong and allowing people to make that decision for themselves and their businesses. But if you look at this, you know, we know we knew early on that this was contagious and the medical community has caught up with medical treatments. I think you’ve seen that. But even the states that were on the most strict lockdowns in like California and New York are seeing a resurgence.
Leahy: That’s called evidence.
Sexton: Right. So even if you do everything California does it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have a resurgence. And so you try to figure out how to make the best decision to allow your economy to stay open as cautiously as you can so that you don’t destroy lives. You don’t destroy families. You don’t bankrupt businesses. And you try to get through this until we can get the vaccination there that looks like it’s very effective. And so we kind of try to ride this out as best as we can.
Leahy: Speaker Sexton, has Representative Zachary and you talked to the governor about this bill and will he support this bill?
Sexton: We have reached out to the administration about the bill. We’ve had some early conversations and we’ll continue those. You know, it’s like anything else, the bill just got filed. My sense has always been that I like to see the language before I comment on it. And so I’ve seen the language. So the governor, we will be having those conversations with him. And we’re hopeful as well, you know, it takes the Senate as well to pass it get it through. So we’re hopeful that the Senate will follow through. I’m pretty sure in the House that we’ll get it to the House floor and pass it. And I’m hopeful the Senate will do the same thing.
Leahy: Yeah, it would seem logical to me that this president of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor McNally would be in favor of this. There’s a big big supermajority of Republicans in the state Senate. So it sounds to me like there would be a good prospect of getting the legislation passed. What do you see happening as of priorities when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes in January?
Sexton: Well, I think one is making sure we watch our budget. And we’re cautiously optimistic about that. But the great thing is that the rural communities are driving our state right now. We’re running two percent ahead of revenue as Davidson County is slowly coming back. Shelby County is coming back a little bit faster than Davidson. So our two biggest economic drivers aren’t performing where we need them to at this point.
But the state is still seeing positive growth in Sevier County that is booming with tourism. So that’s really helped us as well. So we’re cautiously optimistic about the budget that holds. We’re still going to make some cuts. We’re still going to right-size government and continue down that road. I think the other thing you’ll see is some healthcare issues whether we’re trying to gain more affordable and accessible health care for patients and take away the government barriers that limit competition.
I think you’ll see some literacy and education movements. You know, we’re going to have a big conversation about the BEP formula and should the school systems be held harmless. You know, I think one part of that discussion needs to be are they open? Are the schools open? If you’re open your costs are usually about the same.
But if you’re not open, there’s a lot of costs there that you’re not having to incur. So there needs to be some discussion around that as well. So I think you’ll see health education and a criminal justice package obviously which will be big this year. Hopefully, we’ll get some truth in sentencing as well.
Sexton: That’s a good agenda I think.
Carmichael: It really is.
Leahy: We’re looking forward to this session of the General Assembly and we thank you for being a regular member of the Tennessee Star Report. I mean, it’s terrific. I talked to Crom about this. We love Tennessee. And we love the fact that the Speaker of the House comes on all the time.
Carmichael: This is great for our listeners to get an update as to what’s in the hopper in the legislature. And the Speaker of the House is certainly the best person to be able to tell us what the priorities are. And I like what I hear.
Leahy: Yes. Exactly. Speaker Sexton, thanks so much for joining us, and good luck in the legislative session. Sounds like it’s a terrific agenda.
Sexton: Thank you very much. And Tennessee is such a wonderful place to live in and we’re going to keep it that way.
Leahy: I love that. I love that!
Listen to the full third hour here:
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