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Old man Hill on Capitol Hill

Johnson City Press • Jan 3, 2019 at 7:30 AM

As a senior member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Matthew Hill has an opportunity in 2019 to use his clout to better the lives of his constituents in Washington County, as well as people across the state.

With the departures of such high-profile representatives as Speaker Beth Harwell and Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, both of whom left the House in failed pursuits of the governor’s office, Hill now ranks in a tie for 11th in seniority among 99 members.

When Hill entered his first term in the House in 2005, he was just 26 — a mere lad in comparison to the 65-year-old speaker at the time, Jimmy Naifeh, who had led the chamber since Hill was in middle school.

Now at age 40, Hill is still a young man as politicians go, but 14 years of legislative experience means Hill should have the knowledge and connections to get things done in Nashville as he begins his eighth term.

And by “things” we mean bills that will have direct and positive effects on Washington County and its residents. The Legislature would do well to shelve clearly partisan, base-rallying impulses in favor of initiatives with tangible outcomes.

As Press News Editor Nathan Baker reported in Wednesday’s edition, Hill already has pledged to push forth legislation to enact the Katie Beckett waiver, allowing the expenses of home care for children with disabilities to be covered by TennCare regardless of the child’s parents’ income. Tennessee is the only state without the waiver or a similar option available to families.

We have more than a sneaking suspicion that Hill will again find himself caught between the interests of his municipal and county leaders in his district this term, particularly regarding annexation law and school funding methodology. In wading through those waters, we’d caution him to remember that he represents all residents of the 7th district, not just those in a particular community.

Annexation differences aside, our leaders certainly are amid unprecedented cooperation when it comes to economic development. Regionalism finally is taking hold in Northeast Tennessee, and it is the only way we can hope to compete with the state’s urban centers for job growth.

The success of regionalism will in no small part require a friendly state Legislature. Leaders will be looking to Hill and the rest of Northeast Tennessee’s legislative caucus to break down any barriers in state law and governance.

That’s just one way Hill’s seniority can matter.

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