Tennessee State House. Photo by Eric England

By Stephen Elliot
Nashville Post 

NASHVILLE, TN — Knoxville Republican Rep. Jason Zachary is pushing to strip authority from the health departments in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties — the six counties in the state with health departments independent of the state.

The effort was inspired by ongoing disputes in Knox County, where the health board and conservative Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs have clashed over COVID-19 restrictions. Zachary has already filed the bill and, in a release, House Speaker Cameron Sexton said he supports it. It would convert the health boards and departments to an advisory role; many have used their legal authority to institute and enforce mask mandates, business closures and more during the pandemic.

“Our elected officials are held accountable by voters through the election process; we also elect our leaders to make tough decisions, not to have those decisions made by unelected bureaucrats,” Sexton said. “The independent health boards are unrestricted with their autonomy and control, and their unchecked actions are further damaging businesses in areas like Davidson, Knox, and Shelby Counties.”

Metro Health Board Chair Alex Jahangir said the proposal “probably won’t impact Nashville as much as other counties were given our metro government structure.”

“With Mayor Cooper, we currently have someone that listens to subject matter experts and studies and understands the science and best practices before making a decision,” Jahangir added. “My hope and belief are that the people of Nashville will always elect leaders to the office that follow a similar process when addressing situations. Our board of health is comprised of six people who have extensive professional experience in public health and health care, and the composition of the Board was intentional to ensure this level of competency. It is this competency that the Mayor and our residents have relied on to help keep our city healthy for the past 57 years.”

Cooper hasn’t always agreed with the health board or department, which determined that the Tennessee Titans could host fans before being overruled by the mayor’s office. But Cooper pushed back at the intent of the bill when reached through a spokesperson.

“Now more than ever, we need to value science,” Cooper said. “Boards of health need brilliant scientific and medical minds, and any mayor or governor will need that expertise.

This article first appeared in The Nashville Post