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Commission supports proposed constitutional amendment

A resolution considered by county commissioners during their July meeting led to further debate on the board’s role in decisions made at the state level.
Commissioner David Shanks made a motion to support an amendment to regulate abortion services that will be on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot. Commissioner Roger Nave seconded the motion.
At the request of Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), the General Health and Welfare Committee reviewed a resolution earlier in the month requesting support for Amendment 1, which states, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
According to Dunn’s resolution, approval of the amendment in November will nullify the effect of the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s 2000 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist “and return the power to the people of this state, acting through their elected representatives, to regulate the abortion industry in this state within the limits set forth by Federal Constitutional Law.”
The committee forwarded a recommendation for the full commission to provide a show of support for action taken by the Legislature in placing the amendment on the ballot.
“I’m curious as to why this is here,” Commissioner David Tomita said during discussion. “This is not something this body deals with. We rarely give a thumbs up or down to what is happening in Nashville.”
Shanks said the county could be affected if its insurance one day requires the cost of abortions to be covered under the policy. In addition, he said, the amendment would allow the state to regulate clinics and require licenses.
Tomita disagreed. “We’re overstepping the bounds and authority of this commission,” he said.
County Attorney Keith Bowers was asked to provide an opinion. “Local rules address not placing resolutions on the agenda that this body cannot affect,” Bowers said, using a vote on military spending as an example. “I think it’s a question for the chair to decide.”
Commissioner Mitch Meredith reminded board members of action taken during the February 2012 meeting when unanimous approval was given to a resolution making the use, possession, production, manufacture, distribution, transport, sale and barter of synthetic marijuana, bath salts and similar compounds unlawful and a public nuisance in the unincorporated areas of Washington County.
“That is something that directly affected Washington County,” he said.
Shanks said he didn’t think this particular issue is necessarily covered by the rules. “In fact, I think it is the opposite of what the rules intended,” he added.
Commissioner Ethan Flynn said the county would be affected if the Legislature passes the amendment. “So I think we have a voice,” he said.
Commission Chair Greg Matherly allowed the resolution to be considered, and the motion passed on a voice vote with Tomita opposed.
Meredith voted against making the recommendation to the commission during the General Health and Welfare Committee meeting, saying he didn’t think it was a commission issue, but gave his approval last week.
“I think it’s a good piece of legislation for the state,” he said. “Once (a vote on the amendment) got to the commission, if we’re going to act, I support it.”