God warned his people about the danger of being ruled by a king, that is, one man. (1) Our country was founded on a division of powers to try and keep the same thing from happening. (2)
On March 11, 2020, Governor Bill Lee declared a State of Emergency with a lengthy executive order restricting life activities, including shutting down commerce, businesses and schools. (3, 4)
Tennessee statutes allow a state of emergency for 60 days in which time Gov. Lee can make temporary regulations called executive orders. (5) The state of emergency lasted 21 months.
During this time, the members of the General Assembly were unable to weigh in on any of these decisions. Instead, Gov. Lee ruled over covid restrictions through 62 executive orders.
The legislature is a coequal branch of government with exclusive responsiblity for making laws. (7) Several bills were submitted to limit a state of emergency and failed to pass. (8) We depend on our 133 representatives to juggle the many needs of Tennessee’s 6.9 million citizens.
The true definition of the word “emergency” is “an unforeseen occurrence requiring immediate attention.” A situation lasting 21 months is no longer an emergency.
Other states have more than 300 pending actions by their legislatures over governor’s powers. (9) (10) In January, its time for the Tennessee General Assembly to limit Gov. Lee’s ability to maintain a state of emergency. Thirty days is long enough. Call the offices of Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kelly Kiesling and let them know we depend upon them to ensure these limits are enacted.
(1) Samuel 8:10-18
(5) The duration of the protection provided by this subsection (l) shall not
exceed thirty (30) days, but may be extended by the governor by executive order
for an additional thirty (30) days, if required to ensure the provision of
emergency medical services in response to the catastrophic or major disaster.
(6) (HB9081, HB9029,
SP9024, HB 9072, HB1235, SB1169).
Legislative chambers in at least 47 states, Guam and Puerto Rico introduced or considered more than 300 bills or resolutions in 2021 that provide expressly for legislative involvement in and oversight of governors’ or executive actions during the Covid-19 pandemic or other emergencies. These actions include legislation that relates to legislatures’ ability to meet in special session. (For other legislation changing emergency management laws or other laws related to COVID-19, see NCSL’s COVID-19 database.)