NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers are set to tussle for months over how to change the state’s criminal justice and education systems, whether they should legalize sports betting or medical marijuana, and how much they’re willing to wade into hot-button topics like guns, abortion, and immigration.
The Republican-supermajority General Assembly is finally digging into its workload after new Republican Gov. Bill Lee has taken the oath of office and begun getting acclimated.
Lee will work alongside a new House speaker, Glen Casada, while Senate Speaker Randy McNally is keeping his post. They’ll lead a Legislature with 28 new House members and five — but soon to be six — freshman senators.
Their main task is crafting a state budget expected to be about $37.8 billion, with a slower increase in revenue projected than in recent years, at a rate of 2.7 to 3.2 percent during the budget year that starts in July.
But the biggest fights are likely to come on other fronts. Here’s a look at some.
Two bills seeking to legalize sports betting in Tennessee have already been introduced this year. It’s unknown if the odds will play out in their favor.
Supporters argue the revenue can help local districts, particularly border municipalities, compete with nearby states that have already legalized several forms of betting.
However, Lee came out against gambling on the campaign trail, sending a warning among the Republican-dominant Legislature that any movement on the issue might require going up against the new governor.
“If I were a lobbyist or government representative, I certainly would tell our people that it would be an uphill battle if the governor were opposed to it,” said McNally.
Casada, meanwhile, said he’s still making up his mind on the issue, adding that if it’s important to constituents then they should contact their representatives.
Education tends to always takes center stage in state government, and this year’s focus is on vouchers. What that voucher policy might look like, however, is still being discussed.
One possibility is an “education savings account,” a voucher-like-program that typically allows families to get public dollars to pay for private school expenses.
No bill has been drafted yet, but Casada has already thrown his support behind the idea.