By Jonathan Pleasant
After rescheduling due to inclement weather, State Representative Timothy Hill was finally able to hold his first town hall meeting in Johnson County since being inaugurated. Conducted at the Tributary Restaurant on Main Street in Mountain City, Hill gave a brief discussion on some of his first efforts since taking the office and explained some of the upcoming legislation that he is involved with, especially where it concerns the county.
Hill announced that he had been appointed to several important committees by Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell, including the Business and Utilities Committee and Health Subcommittee. Unusual for a freshman member of the legislation, Hill was also appointed to the Calendar and Rules Committee, which is the last stop for every piece of legislation before it goes to the floor for a vote.
As a result, Hill is able to get a good understanding of most of the major legislative issues to come through the capital, and the first topic that he addressed concerned the expansion of the Medicaid program. Currently there is a movement going through both the Senate and the House that says the program cannot and will not be expanded further in Tennessee, which Hill noted was a very proactive piece of legislation. While the decision has yet to come to a vote, there is apparently a strong sentiment that it will be supported.
Hill also addressed the issue of gun control in Tennessee, noting that there is legislation originating in East Tennessee that is designed to prevent the confiscation of firearms, even from a federal perspective. With a very strong Republican control over the state government, Hill was confident that the state would make a concerted effort to protect 2nd amendment rights.
Speaking specifically about laws that he hoped to enact personally, Hill noted that under new guidelines representatives are only allowed to carry 15 pieces of legislation at a time, helping to eliminate potentially unnecessary or frivolous laws. Hill went on to emphasize that his specific agenda looked at laws to help the people in his own district. As a result, the first proposal the representative talked about actually originated from a request by Charles McQueen of Shady Valley.
Currently individuals in Tennessee who want to purchase farm equipment can get a tax exemption card. The same rules apply to out of state buyers, but there is an additional six to eight weeks to become registered in Tennessee. With Hills legislation, those individuals who already have a tax exemption in another state such as Virginia would be exempt from the requirements in Tennessee, making the process much more efficient and hopefully increasing local sales by helping agricultural businesses.
One of the specific pieces of legislation that Hill is carrying also deals directly with Mountain City and their animal control department. In order to currently use chemical capture, which utilizes a dart tranquilizer gun for difficult and potentially dangerous animals, the animal control department has to have a licensed, full time veterinarian on staff. Because this is so cost prohibitive, Mountain City has been very limited on what it has been able to do, but if Hills law gets passed, counties and municipalities with a population under 300,000 would be exempted from the vet requirement. Hill noted that on this specific issue he has been working directly in conjunction with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, and feels that the bill will have strong enough support despite opposition from state level veterinarian groups.
One of the most sweeping changes that Hill is proposing is a new requirement to present proof of insurance to the county clerk before a vehicle can receive a tag or renew its registration. Currently proof of insurance is only checked when an individual is pulled over for a moving violation or other incident. According to Hill, this increased restriction should bring down insurance premiums by 10 to 20 percent overnight, as has been the case in other states that took the same action.
The last specific legislation that Hill addressed was a proposal affecting the states volunteer fire fighters. After speaking about the many services and benefits these departments give to their communities, Hill felt that they deserve some support from the state, leading him to speak with State Treasurer David Lillard about the possibility of providing access to state retirement. Hill emphasized that the details had yet to be worked out, but that there would likely be a specific threshold and that the firefighters would have to contribute but could ultimately be able to utilize state 401K plans.
Opening up the floor to questions from the audience, including a few from Mayors Larry Potter and Lawrence Keeble, Hill took notes on several issues affecting Johnson County, especially concerning roads. Mayor Potter began his address by thanking Hill for having very open lines of communication, noting that he had been in contact many times since his election, and then specifically spoke about safety problems at the intersection of Pedro Shouns and Sprucey Roads where they meet Highway 67 in Doe Valley. With numerous wrecks over the years, and the potential only increasing due to traffic from Omni Source and other companies at the industrial park, Potter was especially worried about the fact that there are numerous school bus stops along this section of highway.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.
By Jonathan Pleasant