A bill that would allow Hamilton County to cremate residents whose families cannot afford burial costs has cleared the state Legislature, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire is asking the County Commission to return a favor.
Gardenhire previously delayed the cremation bill, saying he wanted commissioners to hold an up or down vote on the private act proposed in February to restructure Erlanger hospital's governing board.
With the cremation bill awaiting the governor's signature, now Gardenhire is asking the commission to vote on Erlanger.
In March, the proposed Erlanger legislation died in the commission because no commissioner would make a motion to bring it up for discussion. Commissioners opposed the bill based on a requirement that tied the county to a financial obligation to the health system and denied commissioners input into the creation of the health system's new board of trustees.
Six of the nine commissioners must ratify the act to make it law.
Gardenhire says commissioners are dodging responsibility by letting the legislation languish.
"They need to bring it out of their little committee and the whole commission needs to vote yes or no. This way [without voting], they don't have to take a stand -- but they need to take a stand," Gardenhire said.
He said the passage of the cremation bill is a "sign of good faith" from the state delegation.
But Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the commission has been perfectly clear. Not voting on the Erlanger act is a rejection, he says.
The commission wrote Secretary of State Tre Hargett to notify him of its rejection of the legislation -- just to make sure commissioners weren't required to hold a vote. Hargett's office returned a letter saying the commission need not take any other action.
"For me, that's pretty well stated," Henry said. "There is no further action needed by this legislative body. I really don't understand what part of 'no' [state delegates] don't understand."
Henry added there is still nothing preventing two commissioners from bringing the Erlanger legislation to the floor for discussion or vote. But one would have to make the motion and the other would have to second it.
"I just don't see any support for this from this commission," Henry said.
The cremation bill, according to Henry, was not a valid bargaining chip.
"I don't think this is a common courtesy," he said.
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...