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VOL. 128 | NO. 69 | Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Kelsey: State Confirms Six-Year Auto Inspection Timeframe

By Bill Dries

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Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown says he is confident Shelby County vehicle owners outside Memphis won’t have to go through auto inspections for another six years.

“I received a hard and fast commitment from the commissioner that this will not happen for six years and I believe him,” Kelsey said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” referring to talks he has had with Tennessee Commissioner of Environment and Conservation Robert J. Martineau Jr.

BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Kelsey commented after Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell each said state officials never told them anything about six more years of such inspections and had only talked about two more years before the state would take over the emissions inspections.

The six-year timeframe also prompted an emotional reaction from Memphis City Council members who voted last year to cut all city funding for auto inspections effective July 1 when the new fiscal year begins. Some council members talked of possibly ending auto inspections before the end of the current fiscal year.

On the program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, Kelsey said he was aware of the recent local debate. And that’s why he checked with Martineau again.

“It came straight from the state and I even went back and verified it after I read all the reports in the media and I went back and I discussed it with him again and he said yes, absolutely six years.”

“Behind The Headlines” can be seen on The Daily News Video at www.memphisdailynews.com.

Kelsey also said the decision by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to pull a schools voucher bill was “very unfortunate” and “disappointing.”

Haslam proposed a limit on the vouchers to pay tuition at private schools that opt into the program for 5,000 students in failing public schools starting with the school year that begins in August. The number of students would have grown to 20,000 by 2016.

Kelsey and other Republicans favored a higher income eligibility limit and not tying the vouchers strictly to failing schools. That amendment was withdrawn earlier in the session.

“These failing schools models have not been terribly successful in other states,” Kelsey said. “That was my biggest concern administratively.”

There were amendments to Haslam’s bill last week on Capitol Hill that prompted Haslam to put the bill on hold.

State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville said the amendments were “more about the adults than the kids” and also complained of “gamesmanship.”

“In other words, it was more about … politics than education,” he added.

Norris sponsors and carries the administration’s legislative proposals in the State Senate.

Kelsey also said the state of Tennessee shouldn’t even entertain the notion of taking federal money for even three years to expand Medicaid coverage.

“The state of Tennessee cannot afford this expansion. Even our small portion of the cost would be at least $200 million a year going forward,” he added, estimating the cost to the state in the second three-year period of the expansion in which the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost. “That’s assuming that they keep the promise of 90 percent.”

Kelsey was sponsor of legislation that would have required the state to reject any Medicaid expansion.

Haslam has said the state won’t expand TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, at least for now as he continues to negotiate with the Obama administration for a private insurance option that would use the federal funding.

Kelsey bases his opposition of the expansion on TennCare cuts made in 2005 by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, during Kelsey’s first year in the legislature.

“It’s something that Tennessee has experience with. We’ve been down this road before,” Kelsey said of the 175,000 Tennesseans dropped from TennCare. “TennCare, it ballooned. It took up a third of our budget at one point and we had to pare it back and it was very difficult to do.”

Even with the cutbacks, Kelsey said he considers TennCare a “failed program.” And if Haslam were to find some terms that would cause him to propose a federally funded expansion next year, Kelsey said he would renew his bill to categorically reject any TennCare expansion. Haslam would need legislative approval for a TennCare expansion because it would be part of the state budget.

The state’s hospitals, including The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, favor an expansion. And Luttrell wrote Haslam last month saying no expansion would harm if not “devastate” the public hospital.

“I don’t represent these hospitals and I understand this is a very powerful special interest group,” Kelsey said. “But I ultimately represent Tennessee taxpayers.”

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