Lawmakers Reconvene For 108th General Assembly

Lawmakers Reconvene For 108th General Assembly

CREATED Jan 14, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/NewsChannel 5) - State lawmakers have reconvened the 108th Tennessee General Assembly in a legislative session that is expected to feature debates over creating a school voucher program and whether to allow supermarkets to sell wine.

House and Senate speakers gaveled in around noon on Tuesday for a session they are hoping to wrap up as quickly as possible so lawmakers can focus on their re-election bids.  All 99 House seats are up for re-election this year, along with 17 of 33 seats in the Senate.

But lawmakers will first have to approve the state's $33 billion annual spending plan amid flagging state revenues. Through the first five months of the current budget year, general fund revenues were running $175 million below expectations.

The state constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget.

Senator Bill Ketron believes a bill to sell wine in grocery stores thinks 2014 is the year it will finally get passed. Last year, the bill failed in a House committee.

The measure would allow counties that allow restaurants or stores to sell liquor to have the option to hold another referendum for voters to decide if wine should be sold in grocery stores.

Senator Bill Ketron is optimistic it has the support it needs to move forward.

Another issue they will have to deal with will be TennCare expansion. Governor Bill Haslam delayed a decision last year as part of the Affordable Care Act negotiations. He has called any expansion a potential drag on the state's budget.

A couple of education issues will be front and center this year, as the issue of charter school approval could make its way to a vote. Some state lawmakers want the state in charge of the approval process.

Governor Haslam is also expected to put forward a bill that would create a limited school voucher program, something that he's expressed support for in the past.

Additionally, a tribute is planned for state Rep. Lois DeBerry, who died in July after a nearly five-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives. She also was the second African-American woman to serve in the General Assembly and the first female speaker pro tempore in the House.

Raumesh A. Akbari, a Democratic Memphis attorney, won a special election to fill the District 91 seat that DeBerry had held since 1972.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press & NewsChannel 5.)