Tennessee health board deletes campaign to fight misinformation after GOP outrage

Tennessee's health board has had to adapt to the GOP's stance on COVID misinformation

By Meaghan Ellis

Published December 9, 2021 2:14PM (EST)

 Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners recently voted to remove a policy prohibiting the circulation of COVID-related misinformation amid mounting pressure and fear that a conservative lawmaker would subsequently dissolve the board or replace all of its members.

According to The Tennesseean, the policy, which was previously implemented by way of a unanimous vote by the board, sought to establish consequences for "doctors who spread demonstrably untrue information about COVID-19 vaccines." Such actions could lead to them having their medical licenses "suspended or potentially revoked." However, now members of the board have voted 7 - 3 to reverse the policy.

The mounting pressure came as a result of pressure board members faced from Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge, Tenn.), co-chair of the Joint Government Operations Committee (GOC). After the policy was adopted, Ragan argued that board members did not have the authority to impose disciplinary consequences without consent from the lawmakers overseeing the board.

Despite the reports, Ragan claims he did not recall making any threats to dissolve the board but Jennifer Putnam, an attorney working with the board, "warned board members that Ragan conveyed his 'displeasure' with the misinformation policy 'in the strongest terms,'" The Tenneseesen reports.

"Chairman Ragan also made clear he has no qualms above moving forward with dissolving the BME and reconstituting it with new members," Putnam wrote. "He has in fact done this with another state agency, so it is not a hollow threat."

On Tuesday, Ragan addressed the board and the allegations against him.

"I'm flattered that you and they think I have that much power. I can't do that by myself," Ragan said during the meeting. "However, it is within the authority of the General Assembly, acting through the government operations committee, to dissolve them if we so desire."

Although Ragan is a Republican, not all lawmakers in the party agree with the decision to rescind the policy. Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville, Tenn.) criticized the GOC for its attempt to insert itself into the efforts to control the spread of misinformation.

"The Government Operations Committee should not be telling the Board of Medical Examiners, who (are) charged with protecting the public health and safety, that they can't do something to a doctor that's intentionally giving known misinformation," Briggs said.


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