Dozens of new legislators, leaders may propel Hill

Nathan Baker • Jan 1, 2019 at 9:53 PM

When the business of governing the state once again gets underway in Nashville this month, it will be under 32 legislators new to their respective chambers, a new House speaker, new majority leaders in the Senate and House and a new governor.

“That’s a lot of new,” Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said Monday, a little more than a week before the General Assembly’s opening day on Jan. 8.

Hill, who is entering his eighth term in the House, is not new to Nashville, and he believes his seniority and the changes in leadership could help lift him to a prominent spot.

With so many House members moving to other gigs, Hill noted an opening on the House Budget Subcommittee, “arguably one of the most important,” he said, empty chairmanships in several committees and still some leadership positions to be filled.

“It’s going to mean a lot of new people and a lot of firsts for a lot of folks,” he said. “That’s not a negative thing, but I’m just curious and ready to see where everyone ends up.”

The new speaker, likely to be Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, after his nomination by Republicans, will announce the chamber’s committee makeup shortly after the session begins.

In the coming session, Hill said he will either file or strongly support a bill 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 in the country that doesn’t have the waiver or a similar option available to families.

Hill said he’s also drafting a bill to stiffen criminal penalties and deterrence measures in hopes of preventing incidents like the one in November in Washington County, in which a child boarding his school bus was struck by a car.

He expects the usual perennial bills to re-emerge, like making school superintendent positions elected and authorizing medical marijuana, and Hill said he’ll carefully consider them all.

“You’ve got to have good science and data to back it up,” Hill said on the question of legal medical marijuana in the state. “And I don’t want to see diagnoses in the code. That’s for a doctor to decide, and if government intrudes in those decisions, that’s when it’s going to mess it up.”

Pertinent to school funding in the area, the legislator said there may be bills filed attempting to adjust the Basic Education Program funding formula and altering county school districts’ ability to use of cash for capital expenditures and avoid sharing a portion of the funding with municipal districts in the same county. Both issues, if addressed, will be heavily followed by Washington County’s and Johnson City’s school leaders.

With incoming Gov. Bill Lee’s stated focus on vocational training, Hill said the legislature will likely take a hard look at funding vocational education programs and may take on alternative options to school choice legislation.

With Lee clearly opposed to expanding TennCare access under the terms adopted by most states in the nation, Hill said the prospects for Medicaid expansion are dim, but governor and legislators may try again to convince the federal government to issue block grants allowing the state to use federal dollars as it sees fit.

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