Governor’s emergency powers debated again in TN legislative committee

Tennessee

University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds testifies before committee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — How much emergency power should should a governor have during things like a pandemic?

A legislative committee posed that question to some of Tennessee’s top legal figures Thursday as its members grapple with whether or not to change any state laws about a governor’s emergency powers.

“How do we wrestle with the common good versus our individual rights,” asked Memphis Republican lawmaker Debra Moody.

“Since we don’t know what to plan for, how do we craft the legislation to know what to do?” was another question from West Tennessee Democrat Johnny Shaw.

With businesses and schools closed for a while, along with such things as allowing mask mandates, the committee wants to know what if any laws need changing about a governor’s emergency power that led to those dramatic changes.

“Generally, courts are very lenient when it comes to public health remedies in a public health emergency,” said the University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds.

He reminded lawmakers emergency powers are not just for a pandemic.

“Who knows what the problem will be next time?” said Reynolds, “It could be one of my personal nightmares— the New Madrid fault letting go and crushing everything within 500 miles.”

Tennessee’s attorney general did not talk about earthquakes, but instead said he could not say much because of pending COVID-19 lawsuits against the state.

Herbert Slatery did call the current statute “fairly narrow.”

“It specifically says disease, outbreaks, and epidemics,” the attorney general told the legislative committee.

Its the kind of input as lawmakers are looking for they try to decide if these emergency powers for a governor should be changed.

The legislative committee plans a report after its final meeting in two weeks that will be distributed to the full General Assembly.

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