It was only once, and it was only about one thing that state Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Gloria Johnson agreed. During a discussion about the Common Core (the new curriculum Tennessee is adopting), Campfield and Johnson agreed that raising standards for students was a good thing, though Johnson quickly mentioned she was concerned with how the new curriculum was being implemented.
"I actually agree with Gloria [about Common Core standards]. It doesn't happen often. I always say there's a point where far left and far right come together. I think this is it, really. It's a big circle," he said to some applause and laughter.
Other than that brief moment of bipartisan agreement, there was little else that surprised at the "Grill Your Legislators" luncheon held by the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Most of the Knoxville-area delegation attended the event held Saturday, and answered some questions submitted by the audience about the upcoming legislative session.
Though a Vanderbilt poll recently showed 63 percent of Tennesseans favor expanding Medicaid, the only legislator present who agreed was Democrat Johnson (her fellow Democrat Joe Armstrong wasn't at the event). Sen. Becky Duncan Massey expressed hope that Gov. Bill Haslam could negotiate a "third option" for the state with the federal government, saying " People who take personal responsibility take better care of themselves."
"If we want them to take care of themselves, we should get them health insurance," Johnson responded.
Campfield said he'd give the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) "two or three years" before collapsing.
There was some discussion about charter schools, specifically existing legislation that would create a state charter school authorizer (which would take over for local school boards). Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) said "We wouldn't need this bill if Davidson County had followed the law" and authorized a public charter school they denied.
Sen. Doug Overbey agreed, saying "It's always a difficulty when you legislate for the aberration."
Later, Haynes told the room full of journalists and constituents that he doesn't expect fees to simply look at public records will be hiked.
At the end of the forum, the legislators offered a preview of what they'd all be focusing on during the new session, which begins tomorrow, Jan. 14.
-Johnson said she'll press forward with her mountaintop legislation, and hopes to bring forward some "jobs bills" and "education bills." The only detail she offered was that she hoped to change the fact that "special education diplomas" awarded to students count against a school's graduation rate.
-Overbey alluded to legislation he'll be introducing concerning methamphetamine this session, but wouldn't go into details, since he's unveiling his bill later today.
-Massey said she's going to work on childhood obesity legislation, and a bill that would add the names of fallen first responders in Tennessee to the list of names read during Sept. 11 memorials around the state.