Local lawmakers to focus on safety when legislature convenes

Published 10:37 am Monday, January 11, 2016

When the Tennessee State legislature convenes the 2016 session this week, two local lawmakers will be heading to Nashville with safety on their minds.
State Rep. Timothy Hill and State Rep. John Holsclaw, both of whom represent portions of Carter County, have said they each intend to introduce legislation dealing with safety for motorists during the upcoming session.
“The main piece of legislation that I’ll be carrying, and I am carrying a lot, but the main one is a follow up to a piece of legislation I got passed a couple of years ago,” Hill said.
That bill implemented a temporary reduction in the amount of matching funds a county had to put up in order to obtain state assistance to pay for improvements to bridges. With the passage of Hill’s legislation a couple of years ago, that number was reduced to 2 percent on a temporary basis.
According to Hill the temporary reduction opened up approximately $63 Million in state funding that was already in place to county governments to use for infrastructure improvements.
In Carter County, Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh was able to secure state funds through the 2 percent match program to assist his department in repairing six bridges in the county that had been deemed structurally deficient by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“The legislation I’m going to bring this year makes that permanent,” Hill said. “The legislation has been very beneficial to rural Tennessee. I want to make that permanent to help make our communities safer.”
For Holsclaw, the focus will not be on the infrastructure, but rather on changing driver behavior in order to improve safety on the state’s roads by helping to curb distracted driving.
“My biggest plan for the year is going to be the bill about hands-free devices,” Holsclaw said.
Under Holsclaw’s proposal, driver’s will be prohibited from using cell phones while driving unless they are using a hands-free option such as speaker phone or a device like Bluetooth which allows a user to operate the phone without having to physically hold it.
“It’s is a small issue, but it will save lives so it does matter,” Holsclaw said.
In 2015 alone, 1,336 car crashes in Tennessee have been attributed to distracted driving due to cellphone usage, Holsclaw said.
“I’m going to work full time to lobby this bill and get it passed,” Holsclaw said, adding he has spoken with a number of members of the community regarding the bill. “I’m getting about 98 percent positive feedback on it.”
Both Hill and Holsclaw believe one of the major issues that will come before the legislature this session will be the state’s gasoline tax.
“This year the biggest thing you are going to hear about is the gas tax,” Holsclaw said. “We’ve got to get something don about the bridges and roadways. Right now we’re maintaining at best.”
The state uses money from the gas tax to fund highway and bridge projects. With the introduction of more fuel efficient vehicles, the revenue the state receives from the tax has been declining.
“I think we’re going to have a discussion on the gas tax and overall road funding,” Hill said. “Where that will go I’m not sure.”
Hill noted that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has stated he will not propose an increase in the state’s gas tax during the upcoming session, but he does not feel that will kill debate on the matter.
“I think we will continue to have a discussion as to how we fund our roads,” Hill said.
There has been some speculation as to whether or not another attempt will be made to pass Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, which would expand Medicaid coverage to a large number of Tennesseeans. The measure died in committees twice last year — once in a special session and again in regular session.
“I don’t think we will see a viable attempt this year,” Hill said. “I don’t think it will be successful.”
Too much uncertainty still surrounds the plan, which would use federal money under the Affordable Care Act to expand insurance coverage for low-income residents, Hill said, especially in light of attempts by the U.S. Congress to repeal the ACA.
Holsclaw echoed Hill’s opinion that if it is brought up, the measure will fail.
“You’re going to hear some squawking about Insure Tennessee, but that won’t fly,” he said.
This year is not only a re-election year for the Tennessee House of Representatives but also a highly contested Presidential election as well.
While a lot of attention will be paid to the elections this year, neither Hill nor Holsclaw feels the race will detract from the work the legislature will be doing in Nashville.
“The goal of every legislator should be to focus on the job at hand,” Hill said. “There will be plenty of time to worry about elections and campaigning once the session is over.”
Holsclaw agreed that the legislature will be keenly focused on the state’s business.
“I’m looking forward to see if we can get some good things done for the people,” he said. “We are servants of the people and we need to do what we can for them.”
The Tennessee State Legislature will convene for the 2016 regular Sessions at Noon on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

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