Exactly a week following his re-election, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-District 14, which includes Farragut) introduced a bill Tuesday, Nov. 10, designed to reduce the power of health boards in six of Tennessee’s largest counties — Knox, Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Sullivan and Madison — and return power during health emergencies to county mayors.
House Bill 0007 “specifies that the county mayor has the authority to establish and implement health policies that affect the entire county during a county-wide health emergency; (and) directs the county health director, health officer and board of health to provide advice to the mayor to develop the policies.”
“If this bill passes, it will give the power back to the duly-elected top official in the county, just as we have at the state level, with the governor,” Zachary said.
Even though the state legislature will not reconvene until Jan. 2, Zachary moved to introduce the bill early for several reasons.
“Throughout my terms, the top three issues to my constituents has been the economy, education and health care,” Zachary said. “However, during the pandemic, the top two issues have become the (power of the Health Board) and safety, which has dramatically shifted the conversation.
“I felt like it was important to get this filed as soon as possible,” he added.
The power of Knox County’s Board of Health — which has mandated masks, gathering restrictions and bar curfews during the pandemic — has been an issue as expressed by residents and elected officials throughout the pandemic.
Some Knox County Commissioners attempted to curtail the BOH’s power, while residents have shared that view during public forum comments during KCC meetings, mostly accusing the Board of overreach and asking its role of power to be diminished.
Zachary said the BOH was granted unlimited power by state law and provided no oversight when it was established.
“There are three branches of government (legislative, judicial and executive) — not four to include bureaucracy. There are no checks and balances for the Boards of Health, and it has thrust its members into roles they were never intended to have — that of lawmakers. They are doing the best they can, but it needs to change.
“I appreciate the efforts of (Knox County Commissioners) Jason Biggs, Kyle Ward and John Schoonmaker (5th District, which includes Farragut) for trying to slap on a band-aid to try to resolve it, but this is a problem that has to be dealt with at the state level and is our problem to deal with,” he added.
Zachary’s bill has the full support of Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ office, as Jacobs serves on KCBOH and has consistently been the lone “no” vote on many Health Board mandates and actions during the pandemic period.