Statehouse Summaries: Governor announces Tennessee will not expand Medicaid’s rolls
by Kevin Brooks
Mar 31, 2013 | 727 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Bill Haslam announced last week 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.

In his address to legislators, the governor told us, “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.”

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, House lawmakers commended the governor on his decision and praised the governor for moving forward with a plan to ensure all Tennesseans have access to quality and affordable health care 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.

House of Representatives

working hard to conclude

2013 legislative business

The Tennessee House of Representatives is working at full steam as business for the 2013 legislative session in Nashville begins to wind down and important bills are making their way to the House floor for final action. As progress continues to be made over the next several weeks, the Legislature will begin debate on the 2013-2014 budget proposed by the governor.

At the beginning of the year, the House passed new rules to help streamline the legislative process, including a new 15-bill limit and changes that reworked the House committee system to allow for more efficient and effective government. Through these changes, the Legislature has seen the lowest total bill filings in nearly 30 years. In 1987, there were 1,186 pieces of legislation filed. This year, 1,339 House bills were filed.

As the remaining House committees still open prepare to conclude for the year, the General Assembly is working to adjourn all legislative business over the next month.

Legislation providing

Hall Income Tax Relief

for senior citizens passes

Finance Subcommittee

More senior citizens will qualify for Hall Income Tax Relief under legislation approved by the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee. House Bill 192 is part of the governor’s legislative package to provide tax relief to citizens across the state. The package also includes House Bill 193 to reduce the state sales tax on food from 5.25 to a flat 5 percent rate.

The Hall tax is imposed on income derived from interest on bonds, notes and stock dividends. Since enactment of the Hall tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. As such, the legislation approved last week raises the Hall income tax exemption level for citizens age 65 and older from $26,200 to $33,000 for single filers and from $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers.

The action by the subcommittee builds on Hall tax relief efforts taken in 2011 which raised the exemption level for senior citizens from $16,200 to $26,200 for single filers and from $27,000 to $37,000 for joint filers.

In addition to the Hall tax and food tax relief bills, the governor’s budget provides funds to raise the Inheritance Tax exemption level from $1.25 million to $2 million as authorized by Public Chapter 1057, passed by the General Assembly last year. Finally, the budget proposal provides tax relief for low income seniors, veterans and the disabled by fully funding the growth of the property tax freeze program enacted in 2007.

Local legislative team

remains open to input

from area constituents

Readers will quickly recognize it is becoming customary for members of our legislative team to openly invite input from constituents within our representative areas. This isn’t just an open invitation from me. It comes on behalf of four lawmakers who represent a portion of Bradley County and the city of Cleveland.

My fellow Cleveland-based colleague in the House of Representatives, State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who represents the 22nd Legislative District, has issued this reminder in past columns in the Cleveland Daily Banner, as will I.

We encourage your input, your questions, your concerns and certainly your suggestions. The task to do what we believe is best for all Tennesseans, and not just our respective districts, is not always easy. It comes with much consideration. But it is the voters of Cleveland and Bradley County, and those included in neighboring districts, who have sent us to Nashville to do a job. It is on their behalf that we are working.

Not only am I speaking on Rep. Watson’s behalf, as well as I my own, but also on behalf of our two colleagues in the state Senate. I speak of state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville who represents the 9th Senatorial District, and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Ooltewah who represents the 10th Senatorial District.

Our email addresses, our telephone lines and our offices — whether in Nashville or our home communities — remain open to your ideas and your needs.

While we can’t always guarantee an immediate resolution to your concerns, we can guarantee an open ear and a willingness to listen — and to “hear” — what it is you have to say. Sometimes the wheels of government can seem to grind slowly, but it is not from disinterest. Rather, it is the product of our desire to make the right choices and to do what we believe is in the best interest of our state and its citizens throughout.

On behalf of Rep. Watson, and state Sens. Bell and Gardenhire, thank you for all your support — past, present and future. We look forward to even more successes in the remainder of this legislative session.

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(Editor’s Note: State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, represents the 24th Legislative District, which is comprised of the city of Cleveland. He and his wife, Kim, are actively involved in the community. Their children, Zach and Elizabeth, attend Lee University and Cleveland High School respectively.)