State Legislators begin 109th General Assembly

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TN State Senate
Tennessee State Senate (photo: WikiMedia)

State Legislature organizes business as 109th General Assembly convenes From Senator Ken Yager

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 16, 2015 — The 109th General Assembly has begun as state lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to take the oath of office, elect officers and organize the business of the 2015-2016 legislative sessions. Families and friends crowded the Senate chamber and watched proudly as 17 of the State Senate’s members took the oath of office, which was the first order of business during the organizational session.

The second order of business was the election of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Ramsey who also serves as Speaker of the Senate, is serving his fifth term as Lt. Governor of Tennessee.

The opening week of the 109th General Assembly was also marked by re-election of two of the state’s constitutional officers, the treasurer and comptroller of the treasury on Wednesday. The state’s constitution provides that the legislature selects the offices in a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives during the organizational session of each General Assembly.

Elected and sworn in were David Lillard as State Treasurer and Justin Wilson as Comptroller, both who are serving their third term in these positions. The comptroller audits state agencies and county governments to ensure they are run well. The treasurer keeps track of the state’s coffers, its investments and its pension funds.

While the Treasurer and Comptroller serve two-year terms, the third constitutional officer, Tennessee’s Secretary of State, serves a four-year term. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is beginning his third year of that term after being elected by the General Assembly in 2013. The three constitutional officers serve on several key boards together, such as the State Building Commission, which maintains all state-owned public buildings; the Funding Board, which helps guide budgeting; and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, which helps provide citizens with affordable housing.

On Thursday, I was very pleased to be elected by my colleagues to serve on the Tennessee General Assembly’s Joint Fiscal Review Committee. The committee consists of 16 members of the state’s 133 lawmakers who must be elected by the full Senate or House of Representatives.

The Fiscal Review Committee serves as the state’s “watchdog” on all state budgetary matters. It conducts a continuing review of the financial operations of state government, including a detailed review of state contracts. It also is responsible for preparing and distributing the fiscal notes that show how proposed legislation would impact state and local governments financially.

With organizational tasks out of the way, we can now get to work on the issues facing Tennessee. Although state spending in a tight budget year will be the predominant driver for legislative action, other top issues on the legislative agenda in 2015 are jobs, education, public safety and legislation stemming from the ratification of the constitutional amendments passed by voters in November.

The first issue which lawmakers will tackle, however, is healthcare as Governor Bill Haslam has called a Special Session to consider his plan to expand Medicaid coverage to about 200,000 adult Tennesseans utilizing federal funds authorized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Article III, Section 23 of Tennessee’s Constitution gives Governor Haslam the authority to call the “extraordinary” session through a proclamation. It also states that the General Assembly “shall enter on no legislative business except that for which they were specifically called together.” The special session, which is the 58th in Tennessee history, is set to begin on February 2.

I hope to have a separate article on Insure Tennessee. I have met with the Governor’s representatives to hear their explanation and am waiting on additional information. The cost to the State and the impact on my district are important considerations for me.

Rising healthcare costs to the state’s TennCare program combined with inflationary growth for the state’s Basic Education Program present budget challenges for Tennessee in 2015. This is compounded by sluggish revenue growth that shows the state is still recovering economically. These factors make it very difficult to find discretionary money for other needed improvements.

The State Funding Board met in December to reevaluate Tennessee’s economic condition and set a new growth rate of 2.6% to 3% upon which the 2015-16 budget year will be based. This compares to an estimated growth rate of 3.85 to 4.2% last year and equates to approximately $300 million in new revenues.

The General Assembly will recess for the next two weeks as office assignments are made and in anticipation of the Special Session. I plan to be out in all seven counties during the recess and look forward to hearing from you on the issues important to the 12th Senatorial District.