Today marks the start of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly, wherein our lawmakers will embark on another six months of legislating. This Session promises to be an interesting one. The Republicans strengthened their supermajority in both the House and Senate after the recent election, although among the only five Democratic Senators remaining are Freshmen Jeff Yarbro and Sara Kyle (spouse of former Senator Jim Kyle). The Tennessee GOP is set to run their own agenda again, with very little but vocal opposition from the Tennessee Democrats. However, with Mary Mancini as their new Chairwoman, Democrats are positioned for the first time in several years to make their message known to the people of Tennessee.
Governor Bill Haslam has proposed a special session starting in February to institute Insure Tennessee, a belated proposition to accept the billions of dollars in federal funding to extend Medicaid to Tennesseans under the Affordable Care Act. However, he is expected to encounter resistance from the Republican super-majority in the legislature due to their imprudent and punishing opposition to “Obamacare.”
The Senate opening prayer was delivered by wealthy local Paster Maury Davis, who was convicted of stabbing a woman to death in her own home. He related a story just before he delivered the prayer that another pastor had recently commented in his presence that, “‘grace is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,’ but it was for me,” he said. He’s an interesting choice for delivering the opening prayer considering that women’s health and right to life is a prominent concern on this Assembly’s agenda.
After gaveling in the Session and his re-election as Speaker and Lt. Governor, Ron Ramsey thanked his wife, mother, daughters, and acknowledged his three grandsons (with another on the way), commenting that they are a family full of boys and stating that, “Our actions will shape the future of all the children of Tennessee.” Although the Speaker has expressed a great deal of support against Tennessee women’s right to make their own medical decisions, he has not proposed any legislation to address rampant child poverty in our State or any other issues of child welfare.
The convening of the Session was marked by a protest of several hundred Tennessean women who first gathered at the Tennessee Tower for a series of speeches from leaders across the State, then marched to the Capitol steps where members of the crowd chanted, sang, and were asked to address their fellow citizens. Part of the protest then moved inside, where one group was held in the lobby by State Troopers while another group made it upstairs outside the chambers for more chanting. Other protestors held formal organizational meetings at locations around the Capitol to discuss women’s activism going forward into 2015.