Legislature tackles Workers’ Comp, pension reform, Medicaid and more
by Eric Watson, State Rep
Apr 09, 2013 | 568 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Statewide residents of our Volunteer State continue to encourage legislators of the 108th General Assembly to keep doing what we’re doing when it comes to conservative spending, operating within our means and reducing taxes on hardworking Tennesseans everywhere.

Although Gov. Bill Haslam last week presented his budget amendments for Fiscal Year 2013-14, which will go a long way in keeping our state headed in the right direction, legislators also took a lot of key actions on some issues that don’t always make the headlines; at least, the biggest headlines. But all are just as important, especially to the working families and businesses — both large and small — that have made our state great over the years.

I’ll have more to say on the governor’s budget amendments a little later in this Capitol Hill Review. But for now, I’d like to fill you in on some other significant actions taken within your Tennessee House of Representatives.

We’ll start with Workers’ Compensation Reform, a subject that always gets the attention quickly of employees and employers.

Workers’ Compensation

Reform passes key

House committee

In order to provide more stability and efficiency in Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation system, House lawmakers have sponsored the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013. Last week, the bill passed out of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee as it continues building support from both employers and employees across the state.

The current state Workers’ Compensation system was established in 1919. Because of this fact, critics argue, it is simply outdated and in need of an overhaul. In addition, Tennessee is currently one of only two states that adjudicate workers’ compensation claims in the trial courts. As a result, Tennessee’s medical costs related to workers’ compensation are some of the highest in the nation.

The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013 will create a system that is more fair and efficient, and will help provide better outcomes for employers and employees. The new system will also allow workers to receive benefits faster and return to work much sooner than they can now.

The legislation is scheduled for debate by the full House of Representatives on Thursday.

Pension reform legislation

scores legislative victory

As other states across the nation refuse to look at the long-term fiscal health of their pension systems, Tennessee legislators are moving forward with a plan to ensure state employees are protected for years to come.

House Bill 948, which passed out of the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee last week, places Tennessee on a strong, sustainable path with regard to our state employee pension system.

The legislation continues Tennessee’s trend of being one of the best fiscally managed states in the nation. As other state legislatures drown in debt as they work to weather the economic downturn, lawmakers in Tennessee are cutting taxes, balancing the state budget and creating a jobs-friendly environment where businesses have the greatest opportunity to grow and thrive.

And in case

you missed it ...

- Beer Tax Reform Act: The Beer Tax Reform Act of 2013 has drawn nationwide support as the bill passed yet another legislative hurdle on its way to a full vote by the Tennessee House of Representatives. House Bill 999, which is sponsored by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, seeks to rectify the state’s outdated price-based system of taxing beer. Currently, Tennessee has the highest beer tax rate in the nation.

- Emissions Testing: Automobiles under three years old would be exempt from Tennessee vehicle emissions testing under legislation pending consideration in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill would apply to owners of vehicles in six Tennessee counties — Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson — where emissions testing is currently required.

- Medicaid Expansion Alternative: Gov. Haslam said last week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sounding more receptive to his alternative to expanding the state's Medicaid program. Previously, the governor had announced the state would pursue a “Tennessee Plan” for expanding coverage to those in need of health insurance.

- Agriculture Day On The Hill: Last week, farmers from across the state visited the State Capitol in celebration of “Ag Day on the Hill.” The event, which takes place each year in Nashville, honors the state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture — and the contributions farmers make to the Tennessee economy each and every year. In addition to the celebration, a milking contest was held between House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. In the end, the House defended its milking title with a blowout victory from Speaker Harwell.

Governor unveils additions

to FY 2013-04 budget

And now, as I mentioned earlier, let’s talk about the governor’s budget amendments that he unveiled last week for Fiscal Year 2013-14. These will be considered by the Tennessee House of Representatives in the coming weeks. The governor presented his original budget on Jan. 28, with this supplemental appropriations amendment specifying additional funding for various projects across the state.

The budget amendment, which reflects the conservative priorities of citizens throughout Tennessee, represents a responsible blueprint that balances the state budget and lowers taxes.

Notable funding priorities in the budget amendment include:

- $5.2 million in additional revenue from the tobacco settlement for a total of $43.1 million to support Healthier Tennessee;

- $1.37 million restored for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Peer Support Centers;

- $225,700 restored for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for positions in West, Middle and East Tennessee;

- $250,000 more to Family Violence Shelters;

- $1 million grant for University of Tennessee, Martin Parsons Campus nursing program;

- $44.6 million for the state’s Fast Track Job Training Assistance Program;

- $1.26 million for infrastructure at Rocky Fork State Park;

- $3 million for State Library and Archives and State Museum planning; and

- $1 million for the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

If passed by the Legislature, these amendments will put hundreds of millions of dollars back in the pockets of hardworking Tennesseans across the state. In addition, lawmakers agree, these measures will spur our economy.