Special to the Trbune
The Tennessee Legislature convened last week to begin a new session, dealing with administrative matters before a two-week break so legislators can move into offices and prepare for the session.
The legislature will reconvene Jan. 28 to hear Gov. Bill Haslam's "State of the State" address.
Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) spoke Friday about his expectations for the upcoming legislative session. He's cautiously approached the idea of letting grocers sell wine, and he's sponsoring a bill to prevent welfare recipients from using those benefits to buy alcoholic beverages.
The insurance agency owner represents Marshall, Bedford, Lincoln, Moore and the eastern half of Rutherford counties. Tracy recently announced that he would be seeking a U.S. House seat in 2014.
Tracy was reappointed to chair the safety and transportation committee. He continues on the commerce and labor committee, after a year and a half of service. He's no longer a member of the education committee, saying others need seats on that committee and most committee chairs only have two committee assignments.
The focus of the new legislative session will be to keep Tennessee "one of the best business-friendly states in the country," Tracy said.
The state is third in the nation when it comes to low debt.
"We have been a very well-run state in Tennessee for a long time," he said, under both Democratic and Republican governors, and Democratic and Republican-controlled legislatures.
The state Constitution requires a balanced budget.
"Our pension program is in excellent shape," Tracy said.
Tracy is introducing a welfare reform bill. Some welfare recipients use EBT cards that replaced food stamps, and they're buying disallowed products, such as alcoholic beverages, he said. The bill was filed to stop that.
Tracy has said he's hesitant to act too quickly on the issue of wine in supermarkets, wanting to protect small family-owned liquor storeowners who claim they'd be harmed. The issue is already a topic of public debate.
"It seems to be moving quicker than it has in the past," Tracy said. He said past bills have run into "bottlenecks" in the House, and the House will likely determine whether or not a proposal moves forward this year.
Worker's compensation reform will be a major emphasis of the coming legislative session, Tracy said. The current system is inconsistent. Judges in one part of the state make sharply different findings from those in another part of the state. Lawmakers want to standardize benefits to be fairer to both employers and employees alike, Tracy said.
As for school security, Tracy said the legislature is seeking input from school administrators, educators and law enforcement on ways to make schools safer in the wake of recent shootings.
Tracy said the legislature is still working on teacher evaluations. Some progress has been made, but Tracy said evaluations should be fairer and less burdensome for teachers.
This is the first time since Reconstruction that the Republican party has held supermajorities in both the state House and the state Senate.
"It's going to change the perception somewhat," said Tracy about the supermajority, explaining that doesn't necessarily make it easier to pass any specific proposal.