The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners (BME) on Tuesday voted to delete a policy aimed at cracking down on doctors who peddle misinformation about COVID-19 after a Republican lawmaker threatened to dissolve the board over the policy, according to the Tennessean.
Under the policy, doctors who spread misinformation to patients or online may have their licenses suspended or revoked.
However, the board’s decision means the policy will be scrubbed from its website, not rescinded.
Tennessee state Rep. John Ragan (R), who co-chairs his chamber’s Joint Government Operations Committee, has sent the BME at least three letters over the past two months demanding that the policy be deleted or else that board members appear in front of the committee to explain it, the Tennessean reported.
Jennifer Putnam, an attorney at the state’s Department of Health who works with the BME, warned the board in a letter obtained by the Tennessean that Ragan had expressed “displeasure” with the policy “in the strongest terms” while discussing it with the department.
Ragan “also made clear he has no qualms above moving forward with dissolving the BME and reconstituting it with new members,” Putnam added, noting that the lawmaker “has in fact done this with another state agency, so it is not a hollow threat.”
The Joint Government Operations Committee can recommend dissolving the board, Ragan told the Tennessean. A majority of lawmakers must then approve that recommendation.
The Republican told the Tennessean on Tuesday that the deletion had the same impact as rolling the policy back, even though the president of the board, Melanie Blake, confirmed that the policy still remains despite not being on the site.
“Our mission remains unchanged,” she said during a board meeting on Tuesday.
This isn’t the first time Tennessee health officials have been forced to bow to political pressure from conservative lawmakers waging war on COVID-19 safety and prevention measures: The state’s health department shut down its vaccine outreach efforts for teens in July in the face of Republicans’ outrage over the programs (which also included a threat to dissolve the agency), and the department’s top vaccine official was fired in the meantime.
The department resumed most of its outreach programs later in July.