NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s the latest in the battle of state vs. local government.
“What you had is a couple county governments who said, ‘We’re going to pay for our employees to go out of state,’” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said.
After one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans went into effect in Tennessee back in August 2022, Metro Nashville Council approved a $500,000 donation to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.
The money pulled funds from other Metro departments, including the police and parks departments, which landed the move on the 2022 Pork Report in December.
Those funds, earmarked for ‘sexual health education,’ were initially planned to pay for ‘services related to abortion navigation for individuals seeking abortion care in states outside of Tennessee.’ Before the resolution passed the council though, that provision was taken out.
Still, Republican lawmakers took notice.
A bill filed by Rep. Debra Moody (R-Covington) would restrict local governments from “expending funds for the purposes of assisting a person in obtaining an abortion,” including as part of covered health expenses or as reimbursement for travel to a state where abortion is currently legal.
The measure would apply to all counties, municipalities and metropolitan governments, per the text of the bill.
“What you have is members saying, ‘You know, that’s not really right, to use taxpayers’ money to do something like that,’” Sexton said.
Democrat leadership says it’s just the state’s latest attempt to control local government.
“This is more government overreach into local affairs,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “The state [is] trying to tell local governments what they can and cannot do.”
But Republican leadership says it’s the state’s job to do so.
“The state, by constitutional duty, is the oversight of local governments,” Sexton said.
“State law creates local government,” Clemmons countered, separately. “It doesn’t have a duty to step on the back of local government.”
Moody’s bill is particularly important for cities or towns close to the Tennessee border.
If it passes and someone wants an abortion in a state where it’s legal nearby, a county can’t provide money for transportation, food or anything of the sort.
“We have a duty to protect taxpayers’ money,” Sexton said. “So, I think what the Republican caucus would argue is that it’s taxpayers’ money. Not all taxpayers across Tennessee agree with doing that.”
Clemmons, the Democrat Caucus Chairman, argued the issue is moot.
“We don’t need people just continually, just trying to approach an issue that, as of now, is settled law in the state of Tennessee,” he said.
News 2 did request an interview with Moody for this story. Republican Caucus press staff declined that request, writing in an email, “Chairlady Moody isn’t doing any interviews on her bills until they go on notice.”