Tennessee State Rep. Jason Zachary Files Legislation to Roll Back Health Department Autonomy in Tennessee


State Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) has filed legislation for 2021 that, if enacted into law, would scale back the power of Tennessee’s six independent metropolitan health departments during their response to a county-wide health emergency.

This, according to an emailed press release that Zachary sent out this week.

House Bill 7 dials back the autonomy of the state’s six independent health departments in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan Counties. These six counties currently have boards comprised of unelected members with their own authority to issue health directives independently from the state, the press release said.

Under House Bill 7, any county health director, health officer and board of health would move to an advisory role, while elected county mayors would have the final authority to establish and implement policies in response to a county-wide health emergency.

“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,” Zachary said in the press release.

“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.”

Mallory Cooke, spokeswoman for the Jackson-Madison County Regional Health Department, told The Tennessee Star Friday that she had no comment.

Kelsey Wilson, speaking for the Knox County Health Department, said the agency “will follow whatever measures our legislation passes.”

“We will continue to take our role of providing public health expertise seriously and will make recommendations to whomever is responsible for making decisions,” Wilson said.

Officials with the four remaining metropolitan health departments did not return The Star’s requests for comment Friday.

According to the press release, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has worked closely with Zachary. Sexton has also worked with business and community leaders to resolve situations “where burdensome policies implemented by unelected boards continue to hamper economic recovery efforts from COVID-19 in certain communities across Tennessee.”

“Our elected officials are held accountable by voters through the election process; we also elect our leaders to make tough decisions, not to have those decisions made by unelected bureaucrats,” Sexton said in the press release.

“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.”

The 2021 legislative session officially begins on January 12, 2021.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

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3 Thoughts to “Tennessee State Rep. Jason Zachary Files Legislation to Roll Back Health Department Autonomy in Tennessee”

  1. 83ragtop50

    A good first step. But a bill needs to be passed to put a halt to the governor’s virtually unlimited powers when he/she decides to declare an emergency. The legislature needs to be involved in all decisions of that magnitude.

  2. Noxville

    Great bill, Rep. Zachary. And thank you, too, Speaker Sexton. Much needed legislation. To the rest of the Legislature: pass this.

  3. Julie

    A first step in curbing this overreach. It doesn’t look like the left is going to back down from the lockdowns and mask mania at least while Trump is in office. They would rather print money and pay people to stay at home for a virus that has a 99% survival rate (we added 3 trillion dollars to our debt just this year alone). I do envision that we the people will have to push back even on the elected officials at some point, particularly if lifting restrictions is contingent on vaccine compliance.