Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell acknowledged Thursday that some Tennessee hospitals may face closure as fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam delays a decision on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal health care overhaul, according to the Chattanooga TFP But the leaders, who back Haslam’s decision to continue negotiating with the Obama administration, say that’s life in the free market.
Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he’s heard the warnings from the Tennessee Hospital Association, but he still thinks “there’s a little bit of ‘the sky is falling’ out there with them when it really wasn’t.”
Still, he acknowledged, “obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”
Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters earlier that some of her rural members have already been concerned about the fate of hospitals.
“There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”
Hospitals have been counting on the expansion of people in the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, through the federal Affordable Care Act to help offset special federal payments for people with no coverage at all.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rep. Curtis Johnson is presiding over the Tennesee House while Speaker Beth Harwell is away to attend to her mother’s funeral.
Harwell, a Nashville Republican, left for Spring City, Pa., on Wednesday. Her mother, Jessie Halteman, was 97.
Harwell’s staff expects her to return next week.
Johnson, a Clarksville Republican, was elected as speaker pro tempore before this year’s session began.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — House Speaker Beth Harwell is helping a group address the lack of access to healthy foods in low-income Tennessee areas.
On Wednesday, the Nashville Republican is expected to lead representatives of the Tennessee Obesity Taskforce on a walk from Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to a local urban market to illustrate the difficulties Tennesseans living in so-called food deserts have buying healthy foods.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a low-income census tract in which a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. That means they may also have little access to healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
In 2010, the task force released a statewide nutrition and physical activity plan designed to reduce obesity and chronic disease in Tennessee.
House Speaker Beth Harwell cast the deciding vote Wednesday to keep a wine-in-grocery-stores bill from failing in a House subcommittee.
Harwell, who has the right under House rules to sit and vote on any committee, voted twice in the House State Government Subcommittee.
First, she broke a 4-4 tie on a motion by Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, to delay action on the bill (HB610) until July, 2014. Carr said the delay – which would have effectively killed the bill – would provide “time to sit down on both sides and see if we can get something worked out.”
After Carr’s motion was defeated, Harwell then broke a 4-4 tie on the bill itself. With her vote, the measure advances out of the subcommittee for a vote next week in the full House State Government Committee.
Harwell said afterwards she felt it important to “show momentum” for the legislation in the House and hopes that will “bring folks to the table” from the opposing side to negotiate some compromise – probably to be incorporated into separate legislation.
The bill as introduced by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, would allow local governing bodies in cities or counties that already have liquor-by-the-drink and retail liquor stores to hold a local referendum on whether line could be sold in grocery stores and supermarkets within their jurisdiction.
The bill has now cleared its initial committee hurdles in both the House and Senate, though several remain before floor votes. Similar bills to straightforwardly legalize the sale wine in grocery stores – without the referendum provision – have failed repeatedly over the past five years.
By standards of legislative speed of the not-too-distant past, the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill roared through the General Assembly at a breakneck pace, crossing the finish line at just one month after starting.
The bill (SB142) was introduced Jan. 28 and sent to the governor Feb. 28. If you subtract the days legislators were not working during that period, just 18 days were involved. That, folks, is warp speed in Legislatorland, especially on a matter of some controversy. It may be an indication of things to come.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner says the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, spent 11 minutes in his speech in support of the measure on the House floor Thursday, while one committee approved the bill after just six minutes discussion.
Indeed, the only lengthy discussion — one hour and 20 minutes, including Faison’s speech — came on the House floor. That was because 13 amendments were proposed and it took awhile to kill them all in a methodical manner.
Now, this was something of a special situation. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell both pushed for rapid action, deeming that legislators had spent entirely too much time last year in inconclusive arguing over the issue, which pits gun-owner rights against property-owner rights. Once the leadership had decided what should be done — the “compromise” was crafted by Ramsey — they wanted no time wasted in doing it.
Frank Cagle opines in favor of Medicaid expansion in his weekly column… interestingly, just as Florida Gov. Rick Scott has done an remarkable reversal to support expansion over objections of many Republican legislators there.
An excerpt from Cagle: House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, with help from some good committee chairs, have much to be proud of in recent years. They cut taxes and still balanced the budget. The state is on an even keel while many other states are reeling from tax increases, budget deficits, and out-of-control pensions.
Unfortunately, the hard work by Republican leaders is often overshadowed by state and national coverage of the Wacko Caucus, a small group determined to embarrass themselves and their colleagues.
But there are some issues coming along this session that will be a real test on whether the Republican majority can govern responsibly or whether a minority of loud members will be allowed to rule. It will also be a test to see if Gov. Bill Haslam will have the courage to step up.
The major issue is whether the state will accept hundreds of millions of dollars in new Medicaid funds so that the working poor can pay medical bills and the hospitals will get a much-needed infusion of cash.
…Yes, the increase in Medicaid money is part of the Affordable Care Act. Yes, it is what Republicans call Obamacare. And yes, I understand that Republican legislators hate President Obama. There is even the idea among Republican legislators and governors around the country that if enough of them refuse to participate, Obamacare will collapse.
…If Haslam, Harwell, and Ramsey allow the anti-Obama animus to reject these funds, then you can thank them the next time your Blue Cross premium goes up because you are continuing to subsidize the medical bills of the people who can’t pay.
It’s time for the Republicans to demonstrate that they can govern responsibly instead of reverting to rabble-rousing backbenchers who have nothing to lose. Unlike the previous decades, what you do now has consequences.
A total of 1,340 bills were introduced in the state House for the 108th General Assembly, the lowest number in decades, following adoption of new rules that limit each state representative to a maximum of 15 bill introductions per year.
The figure is 37 percent lower than the 2,124 House bills introduced in the first year of 107th General Assembly, according to House Chief Clerk Joe McCord.
The limit was imposed at the urging of House Speaker Beth Harwell, who hopes the reduction in bills will improve efficiency and speed up the legislative process.
The Senate has no limit on the number of bills that can be filed. Senators introduced 1,394 bills before the deadline for general bill introductions, 54 more than in the House. A bill must have both a House and a Senate sponsor to become law, meaning at least 54 Senate bills are effectively dead.
Legislative rules allow for introductions after the deadline, but only if each proposal gets unanimous approval of a special “late bills committee” in both the House and Senate. Only rarely do the committees approve late introductions and then typically when some unforeseen problem comes up after the deadline.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has defended her push to let the state Board of Education – not the local school board – decide on authorizing a charter school in Davidson and Shelby counties. Jeff Woods lays out some of her comments in question and answer format.
An excerpt: Q: The Democrats had a media avail this morning. Mike Turner is upset about your bill. He says you’re trying to resegregate schools in Nashville. What do you say to that? Harwell: That is not my goal at all. If anything, the current charter schools that exist are located in our lower income areas. They are close to about 98 percent minority members. The ones that are doing well are doing exceptionally well. This would have actually made it possible for more diversity within our public charter school system, I believe. … Q: How would the schools be more diverse? You mean more white? Harwell: Yeah.
Q: Republicans say the best government is the one that’s closest to the people. This seems to fly in the face of that. Harwell: No, I don’t think it does. We have a responsibility in this state to allow the most local person to have an option here, and the local person here is the parent. You can’t get much more local than that. I have a lot of parents, not only in my district but others, who wanted this option in our public school system. I am all about promoting and having the best public school system this city can have and right now we’re just simply not there.
The leaders of the House and Senate collected substantial sums for their political action committees — much of money coming from special interest PACs — in the weeks preceding the opening of the 2013 legislative session, according to disclosure reports filed last week.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey collected $108,600 from October through Jan. 7, the day before the legislative session began, triggering a blackout on legislator fundraising until the session ends. He had a $178,703 cash-on-hand balance in the RAAMPAC account at that point, plus about $85,000 in his regular campaign account.
House Speaker Beth Harwell put just $23,000 into her PAC during the period, but has a bigger cash-on-hand balance, $444,257. She also has $307,475 in her own campaign account. The speakers traditionally use their money in both accounts to help fellow Republican candidates.
Harwell, then, has more than $750,000 in her two accounts as the year begins; Ramsey about $264,000.
For comparison, the full House Republican Caucus shows a cash-on-hand balance of $46,515 while the Senate Republican Caucus balance was $89,881. The House Democratic Caucus had $41,631 and the Senate Democratic Caucus had $30,959.
Thus the four caucuses combined begin the year holding less money than Ramsey.
Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan legislative hearings on the Department of Children’s Services when the General Assembly reconvenes late this month, according to the Tennessean. Republican leaders will ask lawmakers to “examine our existing statutes and to identify laws and innovative practices in other states that may be good ideas for Tennessee,” Harwell said in a prepared statement.
The plans come in response to an earlier call by Democratic Rep. Mike Turner to hold an investigation of how DCS operates.
Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said he would ask his own legislative committee to examine the work of the state agency. He said he was prompted by a series of recent revelations in news stories in The Tennessean and in public reports released by watchdog groups.
“I have lots of questions, and I’m going into this open to hearing from across the board how DCS operates and what is going on over there,” said Lundberg, who co-chairs the Civil Justice Committee. “We have a very steep learning curve and a short time to get there.”
O’Day said on Tuesday that her agency is responding.
“Our philosophy with the legislature, from the very beginning, has been that the more that they know about what we do, the better,” O’Day said. “So we’ve done numerous visits with our legislators, to our various field offices, and plan to continue that open dialogue. We’re ready to talk to anybody at any time and answer whatever questions they have.”