Legislature making new rules to limit governor's emergency power

Posted at 10:17 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 23:17:41-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The governor's state of emergency powers could soon be reduced by the Tennessee legislature. Lawmakers met Tuesday morning to discuss limiting how long the executive branch of the state government can declare a state of emergency to just 60 days.

It's in response to the current COVID-19-related state of emergency which is still in effect after nearly nine months.

"With the house, we have a provision to insert ourselves within 30 days of the process. And then we also have a provision that a state of emergency cannot extend beyond 60 days," said Knoxville Republican Representative Jason Zachary.

Since the pandemic began, Governor Bill Lee implemented numerous executive orders to help businesses or extend the emergency declaration.

Rep. Zachary and others believe the state's legislative branch should have a say in emergency powers. After 60 days, the governor would have to meet with the legislature to discuss extending the state of emergency. Also, lawmakers could also have a say in how that extension would look.

"The public and our constituency has reached out to us basically concerned about does a state of emergency go on forever? Does the governor have to ability to extend it as long as he sees fit? I see it pretty clear that under the [Tennessee Code] it gives the governor a vast amount of flexibility and authority during an emergency," said Rep. Zachary.

While not all members of the state's Democratic caucus agree with creating boundaries for the governor, Nashville Representative Bob Freeman believes the idea doesn't go far enough.

"If we're going to do it, I think we should do it across the board. It should be for every executive order, all executive powers. There should be a finite time period on it before the legislature needs to come back and weigh in," said Rep. Freeman.

The recommendations were sent from a joint Ad Hoc Committee today to leaders of both chambers of the house.