A bill which proposed removing local health authorities’ powers during health emergencies was re-referred to the Senate Calendar Committee on Thursday. State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) requested this action without explanation during the bill’s third and final hearing.
If passed, the bill would specify that county mayors have the authority to establish and implement health policies during county-wide health emergencies – not local health officials or bodies. Instead, all county health directors, health officers, and boards of health could only serve in an advisory capacity to the mayor.
Prior to an amendment rewriting the bill, the only counties that would be impacted would have been Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan, and Madison counties.
The bill already passed in the House early last month, per The Tennessee Star report.
It is likely that Bell’s decision was influenced by another bill making its way through the General Assembly.
The other bill takes a decisively stronger approach to limiting county health officials and boards to advisory-only roles. It was recently amended to include those provisions, at the request of Governor Bill Lee’s office. The difference between Bell’s bill and Lee’s amendment concerns applicability – the former would only apply during public health emergencies, and the latter would limit health boards from acting unilaterally at any time.
The bill carrying Lee’s amendment is scheduled to be considered by the House Health Committee next Wednesday, and is awaiting to be assigned a date by the Senate Calendar Committee for third and final consideration. As of press time, the General Assembly website hasn’t been updated with the text of the amendment.
As reported by The Star last week, the Knox County Commission voted overwhelmingly to absolve the county’s health board of its powers.
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