Tennessee House Democratic leader won't be able to press Medicaid expansion, school voucher repeal during special session

State Rep. Karen Camper speaks at a news conference Nashville, Tenn, in this 2011 file photo. Camper was chosen Sunday evening to be Tennessee's House minority party leader. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee House Democrats won't be able to push efforts to expand Medicaid or repeal a controversial school voucher law during Friday's special legislative session, according to the GOP-led chamber's top Democratic leader.

"I had a couple of resolutions to do that, but they were both substantive," Minority Leader Karen Camper, of Memphis, said Monday. "So I'm really not able to file them unless they extend the special session at least by a couple of days so they could be heard and read into the record."

Members of the GOP-led General Assembly are set to convene Friday for a one-day special session where Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville is expected to be elected to replace former House Speaker Glen Casada, who stepped down Aug. 2 amid multiple controversies.

House Democrats were hoping to use the special session, called by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, to highlight two of their top issues. But in his formal call for lawmakers to return to the state Capitol, Lee cited only procedural reasons related to electing a new House speaker and legislation making changes in state Supreme Court rules.

Democrats had hoped to suspend rules or use another procedure to get Medicaid expansion and repeal of the school voucher bill, which Lee had championed, before members.

But Camper she said she was stymied by requirements that measures must have separate readings on three different days before they can be voted on by the House and Senate.

An effort to extend Medicaid health coverage to an estimated 300,000 low-income working Tennesseans would have been a hard sell anyhow with Republicans having repeatedly turned their thumbs down on it for years and Lee opposing it during his 2018 campaign.

The controversial voucher bill, which uses taxpayer-funded education savings accounts for lower-income families in Davidson and Shelby counties to send their children to private schools, was Lee's idea.

It teetered in the House for 40 minutes on a 49-49 House vote in May before Casada managed to secure a required 50th vote in a controversy over what was promised to get the measure through. Casada's bare-knuckled approach on that and other issues as well as sexually explicit and racist text messages exchanged with a top Casada aide ultimately led to a "no confidence" vote from fellow Republicans.

There is a third matter that Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, hopes to press in the special session. It is a procedural motion to oust Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, a retired high school coach.

Byrd has come under fire from allegations made by three women. They allege Byrd sexually assaulted them years ago while they were students.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.