KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state lawmakers are set to head back into committee work for summer session in a little more than a week, but the uncertainty of COVID-19 still has those plans in limbo.
“I think the House would like to go back almost like a full session where we consider all the bills naming bridges honoring people with proclamations. Whereas the Senate, and I have talked to the Senate leadership, would like to limit it to the things that we need to do on the budget.
"So the plan is right now, we may have to pass more legislation, the committees may have to act, particularly the Finance Committee,” said state Sen. Dr. Richard Briggs of Knoxville.
After cutting roughly $1 billion dollars form the budget to compensate for the financial burdens of COVID-19 across the state, Sen. Briggs expects lawmakers will need to make at least another billion in cuts for fiscal year 2021.
Where that money comes from will be up for heated debate, but Dr. Briggs says he would like to see state department heads offer cuts up to 7 percent from their budgets to give lawmakers a framework.
“They're the departments which know which essential services we don't need to cut rather than the Legislature doing it blindly. And it would give us a worksheet to look at to see where we didn't want to make cuts. So I think that's another option is if we asked, just like Gov. Haslam did every year,” said Dr. Briggs.
On the subject of misinformation spreading online during the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Briggs to Facebook to condemn falsehoods tied to mask wearing and offered this warning.
“I think all of us have to be very aware when we read anything - what is the source and what is the purpose of the article?” said Dr. Briggs.
And on the phased-in reopening of the economy across the state, the longtime surgeon says political leaders won’t determine whether it is a success.
“I think if there's one takeaway message is whether we can reopen the state and not have a second wave of infection is really not going to depend upon the government. It's going to depend on the individuals.
"We need to continue best practices, which is social distancing, wearing a face mask in public, and washing our hands and being very hygienic. It's in Tennesseans' hands, not in the government's hands.”