At a “State Issues Roundtable” sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses at the Regents Bank Building in Memphis on Wednesday, the three featured GOP legislators — state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Judiciary chair Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), and House Education chair Mark White (R-Memphis) — took turns pointing with pride and viewing with alarm.
Surprisingly, several hosannas were thrown in the direction of Democrats. State NFIB director Jim Brown made a point of telling the local NFIB members that two Democrats — state Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) and state Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) “did great” in annual evaluations done by his conservative organization. And in an animated discussion of health care issues, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen got praised while current Republican Governor Bill Haslam did not. (Haslam did get cited for leadership in education reform.)
“Governor Bredesen, a Democratic Governor, figured this thing out better than any of us,” said Norris, citing Bredesen’s severe pruning of the TennCare rolls, especially of “able-bodied, childless adults,” a decade ago. Both Senators made it clear that they were no fans of the House “task force” on health-care solutions appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell and now conducting hearings around the state. The predominantly Republican, bi-partisan group will be in Memphis on Tuesday.
“It remains to be seen how serious this is as a task force,” said Kelsey to the NFIB group, while Norris, after recalling the House’s taking a back seat to the Senate in vetting Haslam’s ill-fated “Insure Tennessee” proposal, opined to the group, “I find it curious that the House now has this road show.” Both Kelsey and Norris made it clear they thought no further action should be taken on Medicaid-expansion issues until after the presidential election, and, in brief interviews afterward, both characterized the House task force’s activities as being a likely waste of time and resources.
(In his public remarks about holding off on dealing with Medicaid-expansion until after the election, Kelsey suggested that the issue would ultimately be resolved on the federal end and converted that into a plug for his current candidacy for Congress in the 8th District.)
White emphasized the importance of timely communication by constituent groups of their sentiments on pending legislative issues, noting that in the session just concluded a de-annexation bill had been rushed through the House, garnering his and other members’ votes, before representatives of the City of Memphis made their objections to the bill’s terms clear and explicit. (The bill would get an extended vetting in the Senate State and Local Government committee, which remanded it to summer study.)
All three GOP legislators made clear their sympathy with the NFIB’s distrustful view of governmental expansion, and Norris made a point of touting the passage in the 2016 session of SB2389/HB2068, now Public Chapter 859, placing public agencies under strict legislative oversight, limiting their powers to those “conferred on them by statute or by the federal and state constitutions” and requiring them to justify the continuation existing rules and procedures.