After one last spat, bill requiring legislative approval of Medicaid expansion goes to governor

Legislation requiring specific approval of the House and Senate for any expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee won final approval in the state Senate Thursday, capping a lengthy round of discussion that began last year.

The last vote came when the Senate scrapped an amendment that declare legislators would not be paid their $173-per-day expense allowance if a special session of the General Assembly is called to vote on Medicaid expansion.

The bill had passed both chambers earlier, but the amendment had become a sticking point. The House rejected the provision after Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, contended it would violate a provision of the state constitution that says legislators’ pay cannot be reduced during their term of office.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, who had sponsored the amendment originally, disputed that proposition. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Memphis, sponsor of the bill, supported it.

On the key procedural vote, Kyle said that a vote to kill the amendment would be “voting yourself special compensation” while Kelsey said it would be a “vote to stop Obamacare Medicaid expansion from coming to Tennessee.”

Twenty-two senators voted with Kelsey; only five — all Democrats — with Kyle.

The bill now goes to Haslam for his signature. The governor has repeatedly promised to seek House and Senate approval of any Medicaid expansion and took no position on the bill.

He did oppose the original version, which as introduced last year would have flatly declared that Medicaid will never be expanded in Tennessee. That was changed by amendment to simply say the Legislature must approve any expansion.