‘Absolute power’ and legislative oversight raised about governor’s emergency declarations

Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Can a governor’s emergency power become absolute power?

It’s a concern posed by Tennessee’s House Speaker as one of the reasons for the ongoing hearings into emergency declarations made during the current pandemic.

“This isn’t anything about Governor Lee or anything he’s done,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton when asked this week why the hearings are necessary.

In a July letter, the speaker and Lt. Governor Randy McNally approved the formation of the committee looking into the use of emergency powers.

While it may not be about Lee, says the speaker and almost every other Republican, they say it is about what could happen with future governors and a legislature left out of emergency decisions in situations like a pandemic where schools and businesses are told to close.

“When we look at it there are a lot of powers granted when you declare a state of emergency and you can almost become one government without any branches if you are not careful and have the wrong person in the governor’s office,” said Speaker Sexton during an interview with WKRN-TV.

So should the laws around the governor’s emergency powers be changed by lawmakers or left alone?

The speaker looks at the law this way.

“The governor, the way its written, could have absolute power with limited or no oversight of the General Assembly, so that kind of gives us a little bit of concern,” said the speaker.

How lawmakers answer that is the task as the hearings continue Thursday.

The state attorney general and members of the governor’s legal staff are among those scheduled to testify.

The emergency powers committee when its finished will report its finding later this year to the full legislature.

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