Shelby County Health Department responds to TN Speaker of House plan to limit health departments’ power

Shelby County Health Department Responds to TN Speaker of House Plan to Limit Health Departments’ Power

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Speaker of the House is ramping up calls to remove power from Tennessee’s autonomous health departments and put more responsibility in the hands of local politicians.

Tuesday the Shelby County Health Department and the Shelby County Mayor responded to that proposal after the Speaker visited Shelby County this week.

The Shelby County Health Department says besides handling the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much more that they do to keep the community safe.

The director of the health department says that’s something Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton should keep in mind.

Tennessee state Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton visited Shelby County Monday, speaking for the first time since announcing his intent to propose a bill stripping six local, autonomous health departments, including the Shelby County Health Department, of their power.

Sexton says he believes elected officials should hold more power to make decisions than health department officials.

“This is not about one single issue, this is about having the counterbalance of who is in charge, it is the bureaucrats, or is it the people we elect to put into office to make those decisions for us,” Cameron Sexton, Tennessee Speaker of the House, said.

During the Shelby County health department briefing Tuesday, Director Alisa Haushalter said the limited power granted to health departments is critical in responding quickly and maintaining a healthy community.

“That includes our ability to shut down facilities that pose a risk to this community. Our ability to isolate or quarantine individuals who have infectious TB or to shut down a hotel or motel that may have legionella or some other infectious disease,” Haushalter said.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, who would be given more authority in Speaker Sexton’s proposal, said he believes more conversation between all parties involved needs to occur.

“That may be a sign that some of the COVID pandemic response has become a little too political,” Mayor Harris said.

Both Mayor Harris and Director Haushalter say they have not heard from or spoken to Speaker Sexton regarding his proposal, but they would be open to a discussion.

Speaker Sexton says he plans to propose his idea as a bill when the next legislative session begins in January.

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