Stop Tyrannical Tennessee Health Board Powers : The John Birch Society

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly are preparing to introduce legislation to scale back the…

Stop Tyrannical Tennessee Health Board Powers : The John Birch Society

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly are preparing to introduce legislation to scale back the tyrannical power held by six county boards of health in the state, including the Knox County Board of Health.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, governments at all levels took actions that exceeded their authority, including violating the U.S. and state constitutions. The six county boards of health – covering the urban areas of Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Jackson and Kingsport-Bristol – are an egregious example of this unconstitutional abuse of power.

Although these county boards of health are unelected and technocratic in nature, they have the broad power to make unilateral decrees and other public policy decisions with the force of law.

For example, in August 2020, the Knox County Board of Health ordered bars to close for two weeks – “punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $50, or both.” Later, in September, the board enacted a curfew on all restaurants and bars – expanding a previous unilateral decree – and mandated a limit on gatherings to only 25 people. The health board has also ordered the mandatory wearing of masks, a mandate without an expiration date. None of these mandates were agreed upon by county residents or even the elected county commissions.

While the Board of Health did reject certain draconian proposals at an early-September meeting, there was nothing preventing them taking such an action, and the very livelihoods of business owners remained at the total mercy of the board.

The situation has become worse since the COVID-10 pandemic began. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, through several executive orders he signed, gave the health boards even more power to unilaterally make laws. Additionally, when Governor Lee ended certain statewide restrictions, he did not scale back the health boards’ ability to make wide-reaching decrees.

The immense power held by the county boards of health is dangerous. For starters, the livelihoods of thousands of citizens are at mercy of the boards’ decrees. By issuing their orders, they could put business owners out of business and lay off hard-working employees. It truly is a government-induced recession.

Just as worrisome, as the previous months have shown, there is nothing stopping these boards of health from banning or restricting anything they deem to be a health concern. As Knox County Law Director David Buuck noted, the Knox County Board of Health could conceivably ban soda or firearms with the power it currently has.

Because of the county health boards’ tyrannical authority, a growing effort exists to limit their power within the bounds of the Tennessee and United States Constitutions. On September 28, 2020, the Knox County Board of Commissioners voted to pass a non-binding resolution calling for more limited health board powers.

Now, the Tennessee House of Representatives is considering a more substantive measure that will actually limit the boards’ power. State Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) and Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) have both announced their intent to introduce and pass legislation to limit the health boards’ power when the legislature reconvenes in January 2021.

Urge your state representative and senator to follow through on these promises to introduce legislation and to support it once introduced. Inform them of the limitless power these boards hold and how they are enabled to violate the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions. Also urge your legislators to support any other bill that will limit or abolish the unconstitutional power of Tennessee’s six county boards of health.


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