Officials discuss issues facing state at Legislative Breakfast

Published 6:32 pm Friday, March 24, 2017

Attendees at the annual Legislative Breakfast received an update from their elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels on Friday morning.

This year marked the first appearance at the event for Sen. Jon Lundberg, who was elected to the Tennessee Senate last August to replace the retiring Sen. Ron Ramsey.

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Prior to serving in the Senate, Lundberg represented a portion of Sullivan County in the Tennessee House of Representative. Lundberg represents the 4th Senatorial District, which includes portions of Carter, Sullivan and Johnson Counties.

After introducing himself to the gathered crowd, Lundberg spoke about the role the government plays in economic development and job creation.

“Do you know how many jobs I create, or we create? Zero. We create the environment. You create the jobs,” Lundberg said. “Hopefully, we create an environment that is conducive to you creating more jobs, making more of an investment.”

Lundberg noted that he, like his colleagues State Rep. John Holsclaw Jr. and State Rep. Timothy Hill, owns a small business and knows the challenges faced by many business owners in the community.

“We’re small business people. We get it,” Lundberg said. “We know what it means to work to make payroll for next week, and worry about health care, and worry about capital investments.”

“Hopefully, and I’ll tell you it does for us East Tennessee, that translates into the policies we promote and what we project,” he added.

While Lundberg said Tennessee has many blessings and great things taking shape, he said the state also has its problems.

“We have a drug problem, whether it’s prescription drugs or opioids, that affects every person in here, whether it affects you on a personal level or whether it affects you on a company level because your employees or your co-workers have problems,” Lundberg said. “It’s an issue. Is it solved only by us in politics? No. It’s going to be solved by the education community, the medical community, the legislative community, the whole nine yards. Trust me. I think that’s on everyone’s list. It’s really, really important.”

Sen. Rusty Crowe, who represents the 3rd Senatorial District, spoke about Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed increase to the fuel tax to raise additional revenue to fund highway and bridge projects.

“The House seems to be looking at using existing tax dollars because we have a budget surplus,” Crowe said. “The Senate seems to be looking toward the Governor’s plan — increase taxes on fuel while eliminating some taxes, such as the tax on food.”

State Rep. Timothy Hill touted a bill that is working its way through the House that he said he feels will have a significant impact on Carter County.

“It’s not even my bill, but it’s a fantastic bill.”

“This piece of legislation will provide more funding to our EMS services,” Hill said. “And, specifically what’s important, through the TennCare and Medicaid side of things, our EMS services statewide are being reimbursed at 45, 50, 55 percent of cost. Not of their asking price, but of cost.”

The bill will allow EMS services to submit an assessment of services to the federal government to receive a “2-for-1” match, Hill said, add he plans to sign on as a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“It’s very similar to what nursing homes do, hospital systems do it, and now it’s going to be open to the EMS services,” Hill said. “It’s important that in our county, Carter County, that this service, which everybody counts on and no body worries about until you need it, that we find a more creative way to find more funding and better funding for that service so that way when we need them they are going to be there and they can do their job, and it enables them to hopefully be able to pay their bills.”

Rep. John Holsclaw Jr. also spoke about the drug abuse problem facing the state.

“Something that we’re number one at that I’m not proud of is drug addiction,” Holsclaw said. “That is going to be the state’s number one problem.”

“Last year over 1,500 people died of a drug overdose in the state of Tennessee,” he added. “What’s even worse than that, if you want to go to the NICU you’ll see these drug babies that are born with that and didn’t have an opportunity or a chance. That’s increased 15 fold last year.”

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., had been scheduled to attend the event but had to cancel at the last moment as the U.S. House of Representatives debated and voted on the American Health Care Act on Friday. Standing in for Roe was his District Office Director John Abe Teague.

Teague was joined by Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Field Representative Lana Moore and Sen. Bob Corker’s Field Representative Jill Salyer in providing an update on some of the issues Congress is tackling on the federal level.