A variety of issues considered important by Tennessee residents were addressed — with concrete action taken on many — by members of the recently completed 108th General Assembly of the Tennessee State Legislature.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland who represents the 24th Legislative District, and I have tried to keep you informed each week through the Cleveland Daily Banner on votes and other matters pertaining to the Legislature. With this series of columns, we are giving you an overview or summary of the key pieces of legislation undertaken by the House of Representatives, and how they related to our colleagues in the Tennessee Senate.
Here are a few more items in addition to those you have already read about over the last two weeks:
Law and safety
Earlier in the year, Gov. Bill Haslam announced his plan to address violent crime in Tennessee. Among the measures fully funded in this year’s budget are laws addressing gang violence, prescription drug abuse, repeat domestic violence offenders and synthetic drugs. These measures include:
n Funding for increased sentencing for gang-related crimes;
n Funding for the expansion of the Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional Facility;
n Funding to address an increase in the number of felons in local jails; and
n And an array of measures designed to battle the rise of human trafficking across the state.
Gov. Haslam announces Tennessee will notexpand Medicaid rolls
In March, the governor announced to a Joint Session of the Tennessee General Assembly that he will not expand the state’s Medicaid rolls pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as ObamaCare.
Instead, Haslam plans to independently pursue a “Tennessee Plan” for expanding health care coverage to those truly in need.
“I believe Tennessee can be a model for what true health care reform looks like; reform that will take significant steps to save the state and the nation from the unsustainable path we are now on,” Haslam said.
The central premise of the “Tennessee Plan,” which includes helping insure an additional 175,000 Tennesseans currently in need of health insurance, would save the state millions of dollars by allowing the Department of Human Services to buy policies for the uninsured from private insurers, rather than adding them to the state’s TennCare rolls.
Following the announcement, Republican lawmakers commended the governor on his decision and praised Haslam for moving forward with a plan to ensure all Tennesseans have access to quality and affordable healthcare without being tied down by federal bureaucracy and mandates. They also praised the governor for thoroughly researching the issue and approaching it in a thoughtful manner.
Haslam told lawmakers he had not received any assurances from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that the state could proceed with a "Tennessee Plan" under President Obama’s proposal and thus he would not be including the federal funding offered for expansion in his budget.
Constitutional officers tout Tennessee’s financial success
Earlier this year, State Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. and Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson discussed the positive financial position of Tennessee state government.
Both Constitutional officers credit the financial success the state has experienced over the last two years to conservative fiscal policies implemented by the governor and the Tennessee General Assembly.
Despite a poor economy nationwide, both Lillard and Wilson believe Tennessee is on a clear path toward economic recovery, especially when compared to other states across the country.
"There have been numerous media reports over the last few years about serious financial problems experienced by governments elsewhere in our country and around the world. Tennessee stands in sharp contrast to those governments. Here, despite a fragile economy, our state government is managing its expenses and meeting its obligations quite well," Wilson stated.
Indeed, despite the failure of some states to adequately manage their expenditures in a fiscally responsible way, Tennessee leads the nation in several key economic areas, including being named by Barron’s Magazine as the third best-managed state in the country.
"Tennessee is in good financial shape — and that isn't just our assessment of our own situation,” Lillard continued. “The bond rating agencies and other organizations that monitor government finances have given Tennessee strong marks for its financial practices. Tennessee's ability to control spending, manage debt and adequately forecast revenues have all contributed to the state's strong financial condition.”
Going forward, Lillard and Wilson agreed Tennessee must continue its focus on providing essential services while still leaving room to cut unneeded expenses and keep debt costs low.
"I have confidence that Gov. Haslam and the members of the Tennessee General Assembly will take the appropriate steps over the coming weeks and months to keep Tennessee moving on the trajectory of longterm financial success," Wilson concluded.