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Lawmakers divided on expanding TennCare
Legislative Breakfast
Lacy Garrison photo The annual Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast was held at the TSU Nursery Research Center on Friday morning. Pictured, from left, are state Sen. Janice Bowling, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and state Rep. Paul Sherrell.

With the concern of opioids, methamphetamines, fentanyl and other drugs in Tennessee, along with mental health issues gripping the state, do lawmakers believe Medicaid expansion would help address these issues?

That was one of the questions posed Friday during the Chamber’s annual Legislative Breakfast at the TSU Nursery Research Center.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the Tennessee General Assembly’s biggest moral failure in the 24 years he has been there is the failure to expand Medicaid.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve left on the table over $4 billion that you, as taxpayers, have paid and other states are getting besides us,” said Fitzhugh. “There is a 16 to 19 percent reduction in the opioid problem in states that have expanded Medicaid. It would be the first, best and easiest thing we could do to help that problem because mental health coverage is included in that.”

Added state Rep. Paul Sherrell, “There is money there to help folks, but you’ve got to be a person that is willing to help yourself. I’m not a person that wants to give away. I want you to be a person that earns what you need.”

State Sen. Bowling opposes the expansion of Medicaid and explained that over 33 percent of Tennessee’s budget already goes to Medicaid and Medicare, which is TennCare. She said Tennessee has already gone well above the national average in what we allow for Medicaid.

“It is more important to get able-bodied people good-paying jobs so I think that’s the solution to helping people get insurance and taking the restrictions off of small businesses so they can provide again,” said Bowling. “I would not support the expansion of Medicaid because it is No. 1 on the budget. Education comes after TennCare. Our roads come after TennCare. Expanding Medicaid does not go to people who can’t help themselves.”

Another question asked by a number of people was concerning school safety. From arming teachers, to expanding SRO programs, to securing the physical campuses, what steps do lawmakers feel are appropriate for the legislature to take to improve school safety?

Sherrell said he doesn’t know if anybody has the right answer, but he is in favor of arming teachers.

“There are teachers that are willing to go through the system and get qualified to be able to carry a gun,” said Sherrell. “If they want to do that, that would be fine with me.”

Fitzhugh disagreed with Sherrell adding he feels strongly that teachers should not be armed because, “We don’t want teachers to be policemen.”

Bowling suggested active shooter drills in schools, proactive law enforcement and more school resource officers. However, she noted some concerns regarding SROs.

“SROs are certainly good, but an SRO in uniform becomes a bull’s-eye so we need to make certain they are allowed to go in without the uniform on,” she said.

The Legislative Breakfast is designed to give local residents a chance to interact with the elected officials who represent them in Nashville. Bowling represents Warren County in the state Senate, while Sherrell represents about two-thirds of the county in the state House.

Judd Matheny, who represents about one-third of Warren County in the House, could not be in attendance. Fitzhugh was asked to attend to take his place. Fitzhugh is a Democrat from Ripley and does not represent Warren County.

The Legislative Breakfast will air on WCPI 91.3 FM on Thursday at 2 p.m. and Friday at 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 p.m.