Tennessee lawmakers gathered in Nashville Tuesday afternoon to convene the 110th General Assembly.
The State Senate elected Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, as Tennessee's 87th Speaker of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor.
"I am truly humbled at the trust you have placed in me," McNally said. "Over the last ten years, our Tennessee Senate has developed a strong reputation as an efficient and fiscally responsible legislative body. It is a well-earned reputation that I plan to build on."
Several lawmakers from East Tennessee said they will be focused on determining how to allocate a one-time $1 billion tax revenue surplus, and also, how to tackle the state's backlog of road projects.
“The people of West Knoxville have told me that we need to maintain our roads," said Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville. "They’re so important for businesses and tourism.”
Lawmakers are expected to look at several options for road funding. A gas tax increase is one option, said Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, but toll roads and borrowing money are other choices they may explore.
“I think the important thing to remember is that the reason that the Tennessee economy is doing so well is because where we’re situated geographically," Briggs said. "It’s essential to our economy and to the jobs for the people in this state that we have good roads.”
Tennessee's gas tax is currently 21.4 cents and has not increased since the 1980s.
Beyond the issues that impact spending for the entire state, East Tennessee lawmakers already have plans in the works to file bills that could directly impact our area.
Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, plan to file a bill within the next week focused on putting a safety center in Knox County.
The center would be called the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Clinic. It would provide treatment for non-violent offenders dealing with possible mental or drug-related problems, as opposed to jail time.
"This would give them more the treatment and the things that they need so then they could hopefully rehabilitate and not be repeat offenders," Massey said.
This is an idea that has gained steam in Knox County before, but state funding has not been available. Smith and Massey are seeking $1.5 million per year for the next three years through the Governor's budget.
If the idea comes to fruition, Massey said she hopes it could serve as an example for other parts of the state.
“If it works, it will be saving money," she added, "and it will be paying for it on the front end, which is cheaper than paying for it on the backend.”
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