TN GOP new laws limits 6 independent health boards COVID-19 mitigation

Local Coronavirus Coverage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Major cities across the state of Tennessee are trying to figure out how to respond to the new COVID laws passed in a Special Session over the weekend.

The GOP supermajority targeted major independent health boards to stop them from implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

If signed by Governor Bill Lee, the 6 independent health boards in the state could have their power to respond to COVID-19 restricted. That includes Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, Madison and Sullivan Counties.

“The idea of turning off local control over how to handle disease is nuts. It’s dangerous,” said Bob Mendes, Metro At-Large councilmember.

The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, would be the sole decider of quarantine guidelines for when a business or school would need to temporarily close.

“For the history of the United States and the history of Tennessee, there’s been local control on disease,” Mendes said. “Here in Nashville, back in the 1800s, there were annual outbreaks of malaria every summer, and the city dealt with it local control, local authority dealt with it.”

Mendes sent a letter to Nashville’s Mayor, John Cooper, signed on by the majority of the council to seek clarification of the laws passed.

It reads in part: “Forcing a new set of overreaching rules and mandates on Nashville is unfair and perhaps unlawful.”

Only Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan and Madison counties would be covered under the new law.

“It’s definitely going to make it more difficult— I read it that the Mayor won’t have authority to make executive orders about epidemics. We’ll have to rely on the Governor. That doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy,” Mendes said.

Governor Bill Lee has not decided if he will sign or veto the proposed laws, although he could allow them to go into effect without his signature after 10 days.

“The state legislature moved so fast last week, and frankly, held a lot of closed doors meetings that the first challenge is to understand what exactly they passed,” Mendes said. “We know that their intent was to limit Metro’s power, and really, we want to find out the different ways we’re going to be impacted.”

Nashville Mayor Cooper’s office responded to the letter in a statement:

We share the councilmembers’ concerns regarding recent state legislation. The Metro Legal department had already begun the work of understanding how the legislation affects Nashville and the Metro Public Health Department.

Ginger Hausser, Mayor Cooper’s Senior Advisor For Intergovernmental Affairs, briefed Metro Department heads on the broad impact of the COVID Special Session on Monday, November 1, 2021.

She will give a high-level overview to the Executive Committee of the Metro Council at their meeting this Wednesday, November 3 at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

This presentation will be recorded and placed on the Metro Council YouTube channel.

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