Governor’s emergency powers debated by TN legislative committee


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A group of Tennessee lawmakers took a look today at the use of emergency powers by Gov. Bill Lee. It comes after dozens of executive orders from the governor since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate and House speakers convened a committee to see if any laws need changing concerning the governor’s emergency powers.

One of the co-chairs of the group said you can’t make changes at the moment.

“I will submit to you that we will have a much better picture of the needed adjustments granting authority to governor in 18 months than what we do now,” said Sen. Ferrell Haile of Sumner County in his opening statement.

While the committee began with what it plans to do, there were also words about what it won’t be doing.

“We can talk about football, masks, schools, and all that, that is a discussion for a time,” said House co-chair Rep. Jason Zachary. “But this is not that time.”

The legislators called on a retired state supreme court justice and Nashville law school dean for his opinion on the governor’s emergency powers.

“I have read his executive orders, and while you have not asked me my opinion, I am going to give it to you,” said William Koch. “And that is his executive orders are entirely consistent with the inherent power in his office and the power you granted him.”

Lawmakers asked him about their role in the governor’s emergency powers.

“You have given him a blank check,” said Koch, “If you are facing an emergency as defined in the statute, we are giving him broad powers to address that.”

The group plans two more meetings and a report when lawmakers begin their next session in January.

Lee’s legal counsel is expected to testify the next legislative hearing on emergency powers scheduled in two weeks.

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