Legislators approve bill limiting local health departments powers – FOX13 Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A bill limiting the power of independent county health departments could soon be headed to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

In a special session, the House and Senate passed a proposal that could limit decisions made by the Shelby County Health Department.

RELATED: Tennessee leaders hold special session to discuss COVID-19 policies, mandates

The session was called by state Republicans and centered around vaccine mandates for businesses and schools.

Tennessee’s six large independent county health departments have been able to make their own preventative health orders during the pandemic.

This week the Shelby County Health Department dropped its universal mask mandate, but if this bill becomes law, local health leaders may not have the power to put that kind of mandate into place at all.

Under this law, if the governor declares a state of emergency to address any pandemic, he will have authority over county health officials.

FOX13 spoke with State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat, following the bill’s passage.

“The state has done a horrible job in mitigating and navigating the waters of this pandemic,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson says he’s disappointed with the bill and how it would affect the six large metro counties with their own health departments.

“Shelby County, Davidson County and others that weren’t under state control that did a better job of mitigating the pandemic and now they want to take the power from them and give it over to the commissioner of health under the governor, which is ridiculous,” he said.

Shelby and Davidson counties seemed to be the main focus of the bill. The other four counties that operate independently are Hamilton, Knox, Madison, and Sullivan.

Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department, released the following statement:

The Shelby County Health Department always uses a data-driven approach regarding control and mitigation strategies for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. SCHD gathers and analyzes local COVID-19 data each day and consults with elected officials and community leaders in the county’s COVID-19 Joint Task Force when making countywide policies designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We believe the highly qualified health authorities who reside here in Shelby County best know the situation on the ground, and are best able to determine what actions must be taken to protect public health. That is because we must answer to local officials who were duly elected by the people of Shelby County, and we also must answer to the people in our own communities, where we live, work, socialize, raise children, and attend worship.

FOX13 also reached out to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, the bill’s sponsor, for an interview, but he was not available.

Any differences between the House and Senate bills may have to be worked out before the final version heads to the governor to sign into law.

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