In just more than a week, lawmakers from our area will head west to the capitol to begin their organization session. They’ll be sworn in, pass house rules, get committee and office assignments and other housekeeping routines.
The inauguration of Governor-Elect Bill Lee is set for January 19. Then, business is in session.
WATE 6 On Your Side spoke to representatives returning to Nashville and those serving for their first term.
Here are some of the priority items of lawmakers from our region:
Rep. John Ragan (Republican – District 33) began a legislative package after he won the election. He has three bills drafted and four in various stages of draft. One draft is aimed at “ensuring religious organizations that do adoptions can’t be forces to participate in adoption procedures that go against their religious beliefs.” Another bill, Ragan explains, would extend criteria for indecent exposure. His last completed draft reexamines tax exemption of research and development equipment. It’s an issue he says impacts his city of Oak Ridge. The exemption, he says, was designed for places like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, not for researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Ragan is also working on legislation aimed at people who wear masks while depriving anyone of their civil rights. Rep. Ragan also plans to address what happened in the Berkeley Protests and help prevent it from happening in Tennessee by adding deterrents.
Sen. Richard Briggs (Republican – District 7), says he’s already filed more than eight bills.
One deals with tightening restrictions on the sale of unpasteurized milk. He says he’s considering getting rid of the cow-sharing program because “kids don’t just get sick and get over it,” he said. Briggs cited examples over the phone of lifelong impacts of children getting sick with raw milk.
Briggs is also interested in bringing back failed legislation banning smoking in cars with kids, which he says passed in the senate but failed in the house.
Briggs, a two-time supporter of Insure Tennessee, an initiative to accept federal funding to provide insurance for the state’s working poor population, would like to approach the issue differently in the next session. He tossed around the idea of per capita cap block grant, which would require a waiver from the federal government, but Briggs believes is more likely to gain support in both the house and senate.
Rep. Marin Daniel (Republican – District 18 hopes to tackle school safety. He acknowledges it’s a complex issue, but he’d like to explore the possibility of reserve officers in schools and surveillance. He hopes to be able to improve school safety in an affordable way.
Daniel also hold healthcare as a priority item. He explained he’d like to increase accessibility and affordability, but without more government. “We need to get the government out of the way,” he said. He believes a more competitive and transparent market place would make a big different in Tennessee.
Another issue he’s fixated on is occupational licensing. He believes excessive regulations prevent working class people from entering occupations they want.
Dave Wright (Republican – District 19) wants to be a voice to add to what needs to be incrementally improved in Tennessee for jobs and education. “You need education to attract good job and for job growth,” he said. Wright hopes ot tweak things at the state level to help Knox County, including forced annexation policies which he says lead to urban growth boundaries and limits what you can do and impact Knox County property values.
Rep. Dale Carr (Republican – District 12) says he’ll be focused on road infrastructure, maintaining the financial safety net the state has earned and ensuring children have enough help through the Department of Children’s Services.
Lt. Governor Randy McNally hopes the incoming legislature will focus on a conservative budget and keeping taxes low. He’d also like to see work done on criminal justice reform and bringing jobs to rural Tennessee. While he says good work has been completed toward combating the opioid crisis, McNally would like to attack the track of opioids into Tennessee.
Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, representing Tennessee’s 6th Senate District, says she wants to take time to get to know the new commissioners at the state level to improve their working relationship.
Massey, who has worked on an ad hoc disability committee, hopes to continue to look at disability serves across state government and find ways to improve them in the upcoming session. Massey doesn’t believe Insure Tennessee will pass as is. Massey also supported the initiative when it was first debated. “I think the bottom line is access to medical care both for people that are uninsured but also in our rural areas where our hospitals are closing,” she said.
Rep.-Elect Gloria Johnson (Democrat – District 13), believes Medicaid expansion or “Insure Tennessee” is the best answer for the health problem throughout the state. She isn’t in favor of block grant funding because she believes the practice hasn’t worked in other states, and she fears it will likely do less than what Tenncare is already doing.
“There’s no question that we need to accept the Medicaid expansion…I don’t think there’s going to be something better out there. this is working so well in the states that have accepted it. it doesn’t cost Tennessee a dime,” she said.
Johnson is also focused on improving TN Ready testing and raising the minimum wage.
Rick Staples (Democrat – District 15), will serve as Assistant Minority Leader in the house in the new session. He says he’ll work with Governor-Elect Lee on a range of issues including criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion and combating the opioid crisis. “I think people realize some of the things we have are obsolete, some of these policies, some of these laws, are hurting people more than they’re helping,” he said.
Staples is already pushing for the legalization of sports betting, which he says would capture dollars for road improvement. Staples also hopes to curb teenage suicide.