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School safety, health care discussed at Chamber legislative meeting

Madison Mathews • Jan 25, 2013 at 5:52 PM

Representatives of the state legislature met local officials and members of the community during the annual Chamber of Commerce legislative meeting on Friday.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and Lana Moore, a field representative for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, each gave updates on what’s in store the 108th Tennessee General Assembly.

Issues such as wine in grocery stores, gun laws, school vouchers and health care are expected to dominate discussion.

This year, Alexander is serving on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Appropriations; and Environment and Public Works committees.

Crowe is chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee, in addition to serving on the Education and Government Operations committees.

Crowe said his spot on the Government Operations Committee is important for this area.

“Government Operations is good for us in this area, because that’s the committee that propagates all the rules that make the laws we pass work and it deals with all of the committees and appointments the governor makes for those sorts of things,” he said.

With much discussion over the past few weeks dominated by talk of gun control and school safety, legislators plan to face the issue head-on.

Moore said Alexander’s stance as a supporter of Second Amendment rights has not changed, but he believes local boards should decide how to best keep their schools safe.

“He does feel ... that local issues — in terms of what’s best for Johnson City School System, Washington County School System — those decisions are often best left to the Johnson City school board and commission and the powers that be in the local and at the state level, so that is obviously going to be a topic that is going to be up for debate and discussion in the coming weeks and coming months,” she said.

Hill said he plans to meet with both the Washington County and Johnson City school boards, as well as local law enforcement, to discuss the future of school resource officers.

“I don’t think it’s fair to make the local governments have to pay for all of it. I think the state needs to step up to the plate as well, but we have to do something. We just have to,” he said.

Hill said he wants to see a 50-50 split between the local and state government when it comes to funding school resource officers in schools.

Pending state legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education is also a hot-topic this year.

In addition to meeting with local school officials about SROs, Hill plans on meeting with them to discuss school vouchers.

“This is a seminal moment in education reform history in the state of Tennessee and I see positives but I also see some very large negatives,” he said.

Crowe said the effect of the Affordable Care Act will likely dominate any discussions regarding the future of health care in Tennessee.

“Now, the question is do we expand our Medicaid, our TennCare program to include all these new numbers of people that don’t have health care from that perspective while at the same time the people that fall between the cracks in businesses will have the exchange to go to. We’re trying to figure all that out,” he said.

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