NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) are keeping state lawmakers in a day-to-posture, but one thing they control is when to pass Tennessee’s nearly 41-billion dollar state budget.
The budget process though has another new layer with debate expected about how much, and what should be included to help fight COVID-19.
“This is a threat not just to people’s health, but to people’s economic well-being,” said Democrat Leader Sen. Jeff Yarbro on Thursday during a news conference.
Questions about a temporary recess for the legislature have also been raised, but there is nothing to indicate that’s what lawmakers might do.
“If we were to say recess for a couple of weeks, like 3 weeks, we don’t know if it would be worse at the end of that period of time,” said Senate Republican Leader Jack Johnson during his party’s news conference Thursday.
Appropriating money for a yearly state budget is the only thing the constitution requires Tennessee lawmakers to do.
With that apparently in mind, there is an effort right from the top to speed up the process.
It would allow the legislature to adjourn quicker than usual because of COVID-19–if members choose to do so.
“And we are working hard to get that budget completed as soon as possible should the legislature move any faster than originally planned,” said Governor Bill Lee Thursday during a COVID-19 update.
While potentially speeding up the budget process, additional funds are expected to be proposed by the governor to help hospitals, doctors, businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19.
This all comes as Lt. Governor Randy McNally added a cautionary note for the budget.
“By speeding it up, we want to make sure we examine the budget fully,” said Sen. McNally.
In the meantime legislative Democrats, who are outnumbered at Tennessee’s capitol 3-to-1, questioned the Republican governor’s leadership on COVID-19, but they want a voice as well with what’s being done.
“We want to make sure…that we are part of the planning, the strategy,” said House Democrat Leader Karen Camper.
In the meantime hundreds of bills are moving through the committee system, but will there be enough time for bills to be debated and voted on?
While that remains a major question, there remain no plans yet to close the capitol or other state buildings.
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