One year later, let’s restore government to its proper role
BY JUSTIN OWEN
As we reach the one-year mark of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s an important time to reflect on what has happened. This past year has been one of dramatic and disastrous expansion of government power by both political parties. Tennessee is making great strides in fighting the pandemic and jumpstarting our economic recovery. But there is plenty of work to do in order to restore government to its proper role in our lives.
Tennessee legislators are pursuing a number of reforms that would address both state and local executive power during long-term emergencies like the pandemic. They are addressing the massive problem of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats imposing restrictions or mandates on citizens. For example, existing state law automatically makes a violation of any new rule adopted by a local health department a Class C misdemeanor. This is how a board of unelected individuals can impose mask mandates and force businesses to close. These boards were never intended to have this level of power, and they never should again. While health departments should have their voices heard, these decisions should ultimately be left to elected officials who are accountable to voters. One legislative proposal would require any such health department regulation to be approved by the elected county mayor before having the force of law.
Other proposals would curb the power of governments to close businesses generally. Proposals include prohibiting local governments from categorizing businesses as “essential” versus “nonessential.” These designations have created tremendous equity issues for businesses across the world during the pandemic, unnecessarily forced many businesses to close, and cost countless people their jobs. Other solutions would simply allow businesses to remain open as long as they could protect the health and safety of their employees and customers. With these approaches, we can ensure that we protect both lives and livelihoods. As we have repeatedly said, it’s not one or the other; we must do both.
While the proposals on curbing government power vary, it is refreshing to see the discussion heat up in the legislature. As a sunny spring emerges, so too should the restoration of our freedoms after a year-long period of darkness.