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Harwell: Widespread Hunger in TN House for Another Slice Off State’s Fat Grocery Tax

Lowering the sales tax on food, overhauling workers’ compensation, the possible expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee and school vouchers will likely be top topics for debate, state House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday when discussing the GOP’s 2013 legislative agenda.

“I’ll think we’ll make another move to lower the sales tax on food in the state,” the Nashville Republican said, pointing to Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lower the tax bite to 5 percent — equal to about $9.60 less in taxes for a household in a year, based on average spending of $3,838 a year for groceries. State lawmakers cut the rate from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent this year.

“Workers’ comp is something the governor is probably going to have on his agenda,” Harwell said. “And we’ll see a lot of other legislation coming from individual members, I’m sure.”

Regardless of the issues, it’s all but certain that the GOP will have its way, with both the Senate and the House enjoying supermajorites — the ability to pass legislation without a single Democratic vote — and Republican Bill Haslam in the governor’s office.

“Our Republican caucus is as united as I’ve ever seen it,” Harwell said.

That’s not to say that Tennesseans won’t see some fireworks from Democrats. Issues such as school vouchers and charter schools will largely affect the state’s large urban areas that have strong Democratic control, and certainly Democrats will make a way to have their voice heard.

Harwell did not take a position on either vouchers or an expansion of Medicaid.

“The whole issue of vouchers is one that the legislature will spend a considerable amount of time debating and discussing,” Harwell said.

On Medicaid: “My first-blush reaction is that I’m not in favor of expansion. However, when you look at the numbers there is some justification financially as to why we might want to expand it.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert and at 615-669-9501.

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VIDEO: House GOP Ready to Speed Up Session

House lawmakers are bracing for a fight on whether to pick up the pace on taking up bills legislators bringing to the floor.

During a House recess for the two parties to meet with their members Thursday, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick held court at the podium of the House floor, telling his members Democrats will try to fight Republican moves to speed up the process.

The motion would suspend a dozen rules ranging from how many bills the House can take up when they meet to eliminating wait times for bills to go from a committee to the full chamber vote. The motion is commonly referred to as a “flow motion.”

Here’s the exclusive video: