Teamwork draws county delegation together on Capitol Hill
By Jeremy Durham
Although my first year in the legislature was the shortest in recent memory, I am extremely proud of our state’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and job creation, and I am grateful that we have thus far resisted the urge to accept temporary federal funds to expand a TennCare program that has previously threatened the financial solvency of our state.
The transition process from campaigning to governing was relatively smooth, thanks in large part to my colleagues in the Williamson County delegation – Sen. Jack Johnson, and Reps. Charles Sargent and Glen Casada – who embrace the concept of using our positions and relationships together as one cohesive unit to best serve the interests of the entire county rather than focusing exclusively on our individual districts.
This teamwork mindset has served our county well. The critical leadership roles held by those individuals are well-known, and I was fortunate enough to serve as chair of the 18-member freshman caucus – a position granting access to leadership meetings and providing an opportunity to develop trust with my colleagues.
Through this position, I quickly realized that disagreements inevitably arise when developing public policy, but results often have more to do with the manner in which someone disagrees and less about whether disagreement exists. Easily the biggest lesson I took away from this year was to avoid unnecessary personal conflicts. Standing on principle is extremely important and can sometimes unavoidably result in colleagues facing unfortunate decisions between competing infl uences. But I also observed disasters that could have been avoided through better communication or some level of fl exibility from both parties.
A prime opportunity for this to occur presented itself during deliberations on the car emissions bill. Rather than insisting that the bill pass as originally proposed, Sen. Johnson and I obliged legislators (many of whom have no inspection requirement in their districts) who wanted assurances that changing our state emissions plan would not result in negative unintended consequences for their districts. Thus, we passed legislation requiring the state to formulate a modified emissions plan including exemptions for vehicles affected by our bill so legislators could make an informed vote on the new plan next year.
But perhaps my most important piece of legislation was never even put to a vote. The first bill I filed prohibited Medicaid expansion pursuant to the Affordable Care Act. Many remember the state financial crisis of 2005 when 172,000 people were removed from the TennCare rolls. Tennessee now has the option of accepting shortterm federal deficit funds to expand our Medicaid program to cover 180,000 additional enrollees.
In my opinion, our state must resist addiction to federal money, avoid raising our national debt, decrease individual dependence on government and refuse to rely on federal defi cit funds to expand entitlements to a level we are ill-equipped to fund ourselves. After the Governor decided against pursuing expansion this year, I rolled the bill to next year. But if a proposal moves forward to accept the aforementioned federal funds and expand state healthcare entitlements pursuant to Obamacare – no matter what the plan is called or whether or not private companies are involved – the Senate sponsor and I will move legislation to block the plan.
But even while this debate continued, I was still fortunate enough to pass a total of seven bills – three of which were given to me by other members of the Williamson County delegation – focusing mainly on controlling spending, reducing taxes, cutting red tape on small businesses and eliminating laws that unfairly punish job-creators. Consistent with this concept, I was able to pass a new law ensuring that companies are only liable for their fair share of damages and not held jointly liable for the actions of their intentional employees. Previously, there were circumstances in which businesses could be found as little as 1 percent liable but then forced to pay 100 percent of overall damages, and this bill corrected the problem.
I also passed legislation making the HOPE scholarship more accessible to homeschooled children and proudly co-sponsored bills raising exemption levels for the Hall income tax, decreasing the tax on food and cracking down on EBT card abuse.
The effectiveness I enjoyed in my fi rst year occurred because I was well-prepared to represent the district, and I credit that preparation to people’s willingness to discuss their concerns when my wife and I campaigned last year. I am very much looking forward to spending the rest of the year practicing law and spending more time with Jessica, but I am also humbled and grateful for the unique opportunity to return to Nashville next year and again serve our great county.
Jeremy Durham was elected to the Tennessee Legislature in 2012.
Posted on: 4/26/2013