Rep. Jason Zachary files legislation for 2021 rolling back health department autonomy in Tennessee

November 12, 2020

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — State Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) has filed legislation for 2021, designed to scale back the power of Tennessee’s six independent metropolitan health departments during their response to a county-wide health emergency.

House Bill 7 dials back the autonomy of the state’s six independent health departments in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan Counties. These six counties currently have boards comprised of unelected members with their own authority to issue health directives independently from the state.

Under House Bill 7, any county health director, health officer and board of health would move to an advisory role, while elected county mayors would have the final authority to establish and implement policies in response to a county-wide health emergency.

“Elected representatives in the legislative and executive branches are accountable to those who have entrusted them to serve, and they should make all final decisions during these situations, based upon advice from our public health experts,” said Rep. Zachary. “This legislation reduces bureaucracy and ensures accountability with constituents by moving unelected boards into advisory roles, which will make responses to health emergencies more consistent across the state.”

The legislation is strongly supported by members of House Republican leadership — including House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). Sexton has worked closely with Rep. Zachary, as well as business and community leaders to craft a solution to address situations where burdensome policies implemented by unelected boards continue to hamper economic recovery efforts from Covid-19 in certain communities across Tennessee.

“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,” said Speaker Sexton. “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. I appreciate Chairman Zachary for his hard work and for his desire to continue standing with our business and community leaders. Together, we will ensure a strong economic recovery across all three grand divisions of our state.”

The 2021 legislative session officially begins on Jan. 12, 2021. For more information on House Bill 7, please click here.

Jason Zachary is the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Emergency Executive Powers. He lives in Knoxville and represents Tennessee House District 14, which includes a portion of Knox County.