That sigh of relief that reverberated across the state was the collective sigh of 6.5 million Tennesseans as the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for the year.
To be sure, there were some accomplishments which should make you proud and which my Democratic colleagues played a vital role.
The legislature passed the IMPROVE Act, which will help our serious infrastructure needs in Tennessee while also decreasing the sales tax on groceries.
We passed a bill to track how tax incentives increase the number of jobs we create in Tennessee, so that we can better target these investments and ensure your tax dollars are spent more wisely and efficiently.
Once again, school vouchers will stay out of Tennessee, ensuring that vital, precious resources in public education remain where they belong.
And we passed legislation that will help us in the fight against the opioid crisis that grips our state, tears families apart and destroys lives. We increased funding for Tennessee’s adults and veterans to finish college degrees, making our workforce even more attractive to businesses.
After numerous attempts, we renewed our promise to senior citizens and veterans with total disability for a bit of property tax relief.
But it was the inaction of the legislature about which we should all be upset and fighting mad — Tennessee’s failure to expand Medicaid. Tennesseans have lost nearly $3.5 billion because the legislature has not moved to accept these funds.
Unfortunately, the truth is that my friends on the other side of the aisle are putting personal politics above good policy, putting their own re-election outlook over the lives of their fellow citizens.
Not only have we lost these funds, eight local hospitals in our state have closed in the last seven years.
In emergency situations, there are no hours to spare. The difference between life and death comes down to seconds.
But that is what many parts of our state are facing, and the rate of closings is not going to slow without this important infusion of funds.
Bear in mind: this is money that belongs to us; money that Tennessee sent to Washington. You deserve this just like the citizens of the 32 other states that have seen fit to accept, including our friends in Kentucky and Arkansas.
Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana even saw fit to expand Medicaid. If it’s good enough for Mike Pence, surely it is good enough for our Republican leadership in Tennessee.
I, along with my Democratic colleagues have filed legislation the last two legislative sessions that would have expanded Medicaid. Recall that the reason the legislature even has a say regarding expansion is because a former representative who is now expelled passed a bill requiring such oversight. His legacy continues to haunt not just the legislature, but each person who has not had access to healthcare due to a lack of Medicaid expansion.
But we must continue to fight for this entity. It is not too late. Continue to make your voices heard and, together, we can see this through.
While the legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid is our biggest failure, there are other failures which should cause concern. Taxes were cut for the wealthiest Tennesseans, while ignoring the plight of working families and communities that have not seen the revitalization of their personal and public economies.
Each day I arrive to Nashville, I treat it just like I have the past 23 years — never forgetting who sent me there, always considering the plight of the hard worker, the middle class, and those who are the least among us. The legislature should have no other objective than working to make sure Tennesseans have good jobs, a solid education and affordable healthcare.
Too often this session, the legislature failed in this objective. We must and we can do better.
Craig Fitzhugh is the Democratic minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives and represents Ripley, District 82.
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