Thursday, February 14, 2019

Prospects Exist for Modest Legislative Cooperation between the Parties

But there is no bridging of the gap on major issues -- notably Medicaid expansion and abortion.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 1:41 PM

click to enlarge Democrats  Stewart, Akbari, and Camper - JB
  • JB
  • Democrats Stewart, Akbari, and Camper

NASHVILLE — Huge partisan differences remain between Republicans and Democrats on key issues before the Tennessee General Assembly — in particular, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which Governor Bill Lee and legislative Republicans continue to oppose — but there are glimmers here and there of possible bipartisan cooperation.

As she indicated in two press conferences this week, House Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis is convinced that there are areas of potential joint action with Lee and Assembly Republicans on medical issues. One of them, which other members of the Democratic legislative leadership concurred with in general at a post-session media availability on Thursday, was the concept of the state’s availing itself of closed hospital facilities as centers to cope with the opioid-addiction crisis in Tennessee.

As Democratic Caucus chair Mike Stewart of Nashville observed, there are sufficient reserves available in state's general fund to endow such facilities without the necessity to enact new legislation.

There was no bridging the partisan gap, however, between Democratic support for Medicaid expansion under the A.C.A. and the general opposition to it among Republicans, tempered by proposals that the state seek a waiver from the C.M.S. (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to allow distribution of A.C.A. funds to the state as a block grant.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, of Memphis, the party’s caucus chair in the state Senate, pointed out that there is no legal or congressional basis for distribution of Medicaid expansion funds, and she was seconded on the point by Stewart and Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville. The Democratic leader salso agreed that efforts to allow Governor Lee to act on the issue without the legislative approval now required would be pointless, given his own declared resistance to the A.C.A.

The other point of potential cross-party agreement that emerged from the Democrats’ media availability session on Thursday concerned a bill proposed by Republicans Steve Dickerson of Nashville in the Senate and Michael Curcio in the House on the subject of streamlining restoration-of-voting-rights procedures for released felons. Akbari has offered similar legislation but said she would be willing to subordinate her effort to that of the two Repubicans’ effort, given the gathering support evident for the latter.

Party ranks closed fairly tight, however, against another Republican proposal, this one announced on Wednesday by GOP Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet. Their bill, supported by the entire legislative Republican caucus, would return Tennessee to a legal position outlawing abortion if and when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Lynn had suggested that some Democrats might support the proposal as well. Asked about that on Thursday, there were no takers among the four ranking Democrats — Stewart, Akbari, Camper, and Yarbro —though Camper did say that “abortion is a personal matter, and people have personal reasons for their views,” and she did not discount the hypothetical possibioity of there being a Democrat or two who might support the measure.

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