Tri-Cities business leaders outline priorities for lawmakers

2019 Regional Legislative Breakfast

Business leaders in Upper East Tennessee called for improved mental health care, corrections reform and a continued emphasis on workforce development in a regional meeting with lawmakers.

The 2019 Regional Legislative Breakfast was held in Kingsport, and was hosted by the chambers of commerce for Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol.

While the largely-Republican crowd was supportive of Governor-elect Bill Lee, several priorities outlined by Tennessee chamber president Bradley Jackson differed from Lee's stance on the campaign trail.

Jackson called on lawmakers to re-examine medical marijuana.

"I think the Chamber, and industry overall, wants to make sure we have a very strong workforce, and if medical marijuana is some how a solution to pain management, to other ailments, I think there's an openness to take a look at that and see if that would work," Jackson said.

Lee said on the campaign trail that he does not support medical marijuana, but some lawmakers believe he may be swayed to change his stance.

"I think that [Governor-elect Bill Lee] has backtracked somewhat on his statements," said State Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville). "There are new studies coming forth. I think the concern there is the issue of medical marijuana needs some help at the federal level, where, legally, it can be studied in every state."

There was plenty of talk about workforce development, and the need for investment in mental health care to fight the opioid epidemic.

The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, along with Ballad Health, is supportive of Medicaid expansion as one tool to improve access to care.

"There are a number of rural communities in Tennessee that can benefit from expansion, but it does have to be approached in a thoughtful kind of way to ensure that it's sustainable," Jackson.

Lee was not supportive of Medicaid expansion on the campaign trail, but said the system is broken.

State Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), who was recently named deputy speaker of the House, believes TennCare reform needs to be addressed.

"Taking a long, hard look at TennCare's budget... they currently comprise 33.4 percent of the entire state budget," Hill said. "We want to make sure that those resources are being used efficiently and effectively and reaching the most amoutn of Tennesseans."

Hill said, after investing in law enforcement and prevention of opioid addition, it's time for the general assembly to fund treatment efforts.

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