Nashville, TN – On February 3rd, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his fourth State of the State address to the legislature.
The highlight of the speech was the Governor’s plan to revive – and expand – a proposal from former Governor Bredesen to offer free college tuition to graduating high school seniors going to community or technical colleges.
In 2007, Governor Bredesen proposed using lottery funds to guarantee a free community or technical college degree for any graduating senior with a ‘C’ average or higher. The plan ultimately failed to receive the support of the Republicans in the State Senate.
Governor Haslam’s tuition plan, called the “Tennessee Promise,” would allow for all graduating seniors to go to school free for two years at a community or technical college.
To encourage participation, Governor Haslam has proposed reducing HOPE scholarships for students attending a four-year university from $4,000 to $3,000 for the first two years, while increasing scholarships to $5,000 in the final two years.
Also in the speech, the Governor also announced that state employees would receive a 1 percent pay increase this year, with teachers receiving a 2 percent increase. The Governor’s address can be seen online at www.tn.gov/stateofthestate .
The Insurance and Banking Committee heard testimony from Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak and Deputy Commissioner of TennCare Darin Gordon. During questioning Commissioner Gordon estimated that 162,000 Tennesseans would have health care coverage if the state were to expand its Medicaid program – at no cost to Tennessee.
In addition, Commissioner Gordon said that hospitals will face increased burdens going forward if we don’t expand Medicaid because of reductions in payments to cover the costs of uncompensated care.
The Governor announced he would seek to create a private option “Tennessee Plan” for Medicaid expansion in March of last year.
HB937 by Durham(R-Franklin), legislation aimed at preventing the Governor from implementing a Medicaid expansion without legislative approval, passed the Insurance and Banking Committee on its way to Finance Ways and Means.
Wine in Grocery Stores
Supporters of selling wine in grocery stores scored somewhat of a victory this week. For the first time in history, legislation to allow for the sale of wine in grocery stores made it out of a full committee in the House, and passed the Senate with the addition of eight amendments.
Under the new proposal, wine can be sold in “big box” stores such as Walmart, grocery stores and convenience stores. However, Sunday sales will still be prohibited, as will the sale of high-gravity beer.
In addition, liquor stores will be able to sell beer, mixers and other non-alcoholic items in an effort to recoup lost revenue from increased wine competition. The legislation now moves on to the House Finance Sub-committee next week. If this makes it through the legislature it will appear on public ballot.