TOP PHOTO: Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton visits with Campbell County Director of Schools Jennifer Fields at Tuesday’s Rotary Club meeting.
By Charlotte Underwood
LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton guest spoke at the South Campbell County Rotary Club luncheon on Tuesday at the LaFollette Methodist Church.
State Rep. Dennis Powers introduced Sexton. Powers and Sexton were both elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2010. According to Powers, the two have been “friends ever since.”
Sexton was born in Lake City and went to school in Oak Ridge. He is an “eighth generation Tennessean,” according to Powers.
He was first elected as Speaker of the House in 2019.
Sexton started off by hitting quick topics, before fielding several questions at the end.
He spoke on state’s budget and the rainy day surplus.
“We are doing fabulous. If all keeps trending the way it does and holds, we’re looking at being at 1.5 to 2 billion in surplus revenue,” Sexton said, pointing out that Tennessee was also “the least taxed state in America, with a great pension plan in place.”
According to Sexton, Tennessee was one of seven states that grew during Covid.
The Speaker of the House also discussed infrastructure and mainly road construction needs, which according to him is “a big concern in the state.”
“We have six places in the state that are highly congested. We’re looking to fix those problems…cargo trucks, 18 wheelers keep the roads congested in these areas. We are looking at how to handle congestion such as opportunities to lease property to allow someone to operate an express lane or a fee base lane ” Sexton said.
According to Sexton, the state needs $26 billion to handle all the road projects, rural and city, as well as looking at continuing to expand the interstate.
“The problem with roads is it takes 15 years from the day you start till you finish in getting these roads completed. We’re looking at how to trim that time window to five or six years. Road building has to be more efficient and quicker. The iInfrastructure and roads are important to us, but we don’t want to borrow funds for roads, so we’re looking at diversifying our funding options for infrastructure as well,” Sexton said.
He also spoke on the issues of keeping staff in the Department of Children’s Services.
“DCS is a problem and we’re going to fix it, but it’s going to take a while. If our pay is not competitive with private institutions, we don’t keep staff. We are going to compete with private rates. The plan is to bring up pay, which will help with caseloads. All placements being centralized out of Nashville have also been a problem and caused a backlog of placements. This is going to change and go back on the local level; it won’t solve all the problems, but it will help,” Sexton said.
Another topic covered was healthcare in Tennessee.
“The goal is to break up what I call the insurance monopoly. We need to find a way to get the patient back in charge of health care. Insurance companies want you to do everything through them. We’re looking at introducing a bill this year, that if you negotiate and you pay cash for a medical service, it will count towards your deductible and max out of pocket; we think we will have a fight on it ” Sexton said.
With the TISA Act, Tennessee’s K-12 public schools transitioned to a student-based funding approach and invested an “estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which includes an additional recurring state investment of $1 billion starting in 2023.
According to Sexton, this will help rural communities.
He also touched on criminal justice and the goal of the Truth and Sentencing Bill.
“It will reduce crime, but won’t completely solve the problem. Treating violent criminals the same as non-violent wasn’t working. When they come out they re-offend. With three violent crime convictions, they’re going to jail for life,” Sexton said.
Another focus was on juvenile crime and the need to focus on more juvenile programs to prevent the problem at “forefront”.
His overall report was that Tennessee is “doing great as a state” and that “people in other states are noticing what Tennessee is doing”.
“We work well on both sides. We try to always remember we are not there about self interest and just like in Rotary, we try to ask is it beneficial to all concerned? At the end of the day, we all still have that common goal of wanting to do what’s best for Tennessee,” Sexton said. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 01/18/2023-6AM)