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Legislative committee appointed to review emergency executive powers in Tennessee

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville

(The Center Square) – A legislative study committee has been appointed to review powers of the executive branch of Tennessee government during a state of emergency.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, appointed 17 legislators to the bipartisan committee Wednesday evening.

Sexton’s office indicated several members had expressed interest in reviewing current laws given the emergency status caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Gov. Lee has done a tremendous job making many tough decisions during this extraordinary and historic pandemic,” Sexton told The Center Square in a statement. “Our bipartisan House and Senate panel will study existing laws to determine if we can better support subsequent governors, while providing more clarity regarding the powers of our judicial and executive branches in emergency situations, should similar, unprecedented events occur in our state’s future.”

A spokesman for McNally said the Senate speaker believes Lee has used emergency powers effectively and efficiently.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented state government with a unique set of circumstances to respond using powers and procedures rarely deployed or even contemplated,” Adam Kleinheider, a spokesman for McNally, told The Center Square. “Lt. Gov. McNally believes a discussion, study and review of the emergency powers and procedures of all branches of government will help Tennessee manage not only this pandemic, but future crises.”

Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, who serves as chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, will serve as a vice chairman of the executive powers study committee.

“My oath of office requires me to defend our constitution, including the constitutionally defined roles of our three branches of government. One branch cannot abdicate its responsibility to another; nor can one usurp the authority of another,” Roberts told The Center Square.

“There are unintended consequences of Title 58 that adversely affect many Tennesseans,” Roberts continued. “I anticipate the General Assembly will contemplate a significant rewrite of Title 58 that will afford the Governor the flexibility to govern during an emergency while respecting the integrity of our three distinct branches of government. Further, I expect a more thorough definition of what constitutes a state of emergency and how long a state of emergency can remain in place without the consent of the people’s House and Senate.”

A meeting date for the committee has not been announced.

Sen. Ferell Haile, R-Gallatin, was appointed to serve as chairman of the committee. Other senators appointed to the committee include Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville; Ed Jackson, R-Jackson; and Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro.

Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, also will chair the committee, alongside Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, also serving as a vice chairman. Representatives appointed to the committee include Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon; John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville; Bob Freeman, D-Nashville; Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain; Dan Howell, R-Georgetown; Chris Hurt, R-Halls; London Lamar, D-Memphis; Debra Moody, R-Covington; John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; and Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar.

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