Tennessee Senate Democrats Are Calling For A $1 Billion Investment In Public Health Clinics, School Renovation, Clean Energy Jobs And Broadband Internet Expansion Ahead Of Gov. Bill Lee’s State Of The State Address Today.
Photo: Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey / AP
Published February 8, 2021
The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
In a statewide address Friday aired virtually from her home in Memphis, Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari proposed a plan dubbed the “Tennessee Path to Recovery” and called on Republican colleagues to work together to address issues facing Tennessee’s working-class families.
“Democrats are focused on building a future in Tennessee where everyone is safe and free, with a care system, a criminal justice system, and an economy that works for all of us, regardless of skin color,” Akbari said. “There is plenty of space for both parties to work together on these goals.”
Akbari criticized the actions of the Republican majority during the first weeks of the 2021 legislative session, calling the GOP-led efforts an “out-of-touch and undemocratic beginning” to the legislative year.
The General Assembly recently approved a measure to significantly change the funding model for the TennCare program and passed a package of education reform bills to address pandemic-related learning loss and low literacy achievement.
Democrats will propose funding increases for school districts and teachers this year, as Tennessee continues to spend less per pupil than other states in the region.
“If you want to understand why 9-year-olds are struggling to read at a third-grade level or why school districts across the state can’t recruit the educators they need to be successful, it’s because the controlling party spends less to educate our children than almost every other state in the Southeast,” Akbari said.
Democrats’ top priority for the year is working to end the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning by accelerating equitable administration of the vaccine.
“If we want schools and businesses to open and stay open, we need to give priority to teachers and front-line workers,” Akbari said.
Democrats also will offer a package of “pro-family” spending proposals, including paid family and medical leave for every full-time worker, new affordable child care options and a guaranteed doctor for every family.
A paid family leave bill proposed by Memphis Democrat Sara Kyle failed in committee in 2019. Lee provided 12 weeks of paid parental leave for state employees in the executive branch by executive order in January 2020.
Democrats also will propose to prioritize Tennessee-based companies for state contracts, legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage, as well as reforms to the state’s unemployment benefits program and a spending plan for the state’s windfall of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“Working people deserve the same freedom as CEOs: the freedom to negotiate a fair return on their contributions to the workplace,” Akbari said, hinting at Democrats’ opposition to a proposal that would add Tennessee’s right-to-work laws to the state Constitution.
On the books since 1947, Tennessee’s right-to-work law does not prohibit employees from joining an organization or labor union. It does prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their decision to join or not join a union.
“The risk of doing too little to invest in our future far outweighs the risk of going big to meet this moment,” Akbari said in a statement before her address.
About the Author:
Vivian Jones, The Center Square Staff Reporter
Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.