Lawmakers off to busy start for 2014 session

The legislative session is only a few days old, but so far, that has not stopped state lawmakers from diving into a whole host of different issues in Nashville.

Thursday, Governor Haslam made his opinion known on several issues, including school vouchers.

Haslam will once again push to make vouchers available to the families of 5,000 low income students who want to leave failing schools.

Last year, the governor had a similar bill, but he pulled it when Republicans in the Senate tried to attach amendments that would open his legislation to even more Tennessee students.

Previous Story: Haslam Will Support Voucher Bill

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told WBIR 10News Tuesday, a number of Senate Republicans want the same to happen this year.

"We in the state Senate obviously want a more broad definition of who can get vouchers," Ramsey said. "So, I've talked to him about a compromise that if those 5,000 scholarships aren't used by the lower income in failing schools, then it's open to everybody."

But, Haslam says he has no plans to budge in 2014.

"We don't want to have an expansive plan that I don't think Tennessee is ready for right now," he said.

Democrats in Nashville are also continuing their push for Medicaid expansion.

Previous Story: Haslam Writes Feds Letter on Medicaid Expansion

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, said he concerned that if Medicaid is not expanded, rural hospitals could suffer and hospitals in urban areas would have to handle an increased load.

"We're absorbing the cost, Knox Countians are paying the costs, that the state through federal dollars could be paying to take care of those patients," he said.

But, a lobbyist for UT Medical Center said that his hospital will likely support Governor Haslam on any action he takes, whether it be the expansion of Medicaid, Tenncare or the creation of a new program.

"We're certainly interested in whatever plans the legislature and the Governor can develop that will help us get some level of reimbursement for taking care of those people," said John Sheridan, vice-president of government relations for UT Medical Center.

More Information: House Bill 1392 - Hemp Production

The 108th General Assembly has also put out plenty of new legislation at the beginning of 2014.

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R - Cocke and Jefferson Counties, joined Sen. Frank Niceley, R - Strawberry Plains, to introduce legislation that legalizes the production, sale and possession of industrial hemp.

Previous Story: TN Legislator Considers Legalized Hemp Farming (2013)

Niceley presented similar legislation in 2013.

The bill, HB 1392, would also seek to decriminalize hemp. However, the production of hemp is still prohibited by federal law.

More Information: Senate Bill 1702 - Superintendent Elections

Niceley also presented legislation that calls for the election of school superintendents in county and city school systems.

For more coverage on developments in the state capitol building, make sure to watch Inside Tennessee. It airs Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m on WBIR 10News.


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