Protesters try to keep Insure Tennessee alive

Protesters try to keep Insure Tennessee alive

April 15th, 2015 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

The Rev. Brian Merritt of Chattanooga, second from right, leads demonstrators in a sitdown protest in favor of Insure Tennessee in front of Beth Harwell's office on Tuesday.

Photo by Andy Sher /Times Free Press.

As the battle to make the Bible the state's book wages on, the debate to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseeans appears to be wrapping up. But not without a fight.

A Chattanooga minister and other supporters of Insure Tennessee staged a sit-down demonstration Tuesday afternoon in front of Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell's legislative office in an effort to get the Medicaid expansion proposal to the House floor.

Singing "We Shall Overcome" and other civil rights protest songs, about a dozen of the demonstrators sat before the entrance displaying signs saying, "Get it to the floor" and "Speaker Harwell: Please speak up for us!"

Earlier, Harwell spoke briefly with Mercy Junction Pastor and co-director Brian Merritt of Chattanooga and other supporters of Insure Tennessee who at the time were standing and praying in the outer part of her office.

The group wants Harwell to bypass committees and bring Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal, which would use federal funds available under the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid health coverage, directly to the House floor.

Harwell -- who has previously said it takes a two-thirds House vote to suspend rules, bypass committees and bring the measure to the House floor -- told the demonstrators "we certainly will continue this debate. I don't know if we have enough time this session. But this issue isn't going away anytime soon."

Many expect the annual legislative session will wrap up next week.

After Harwell told the demonstrators they were "welcome to stay as long as you'd like," one woman asked, "What are you going to do for the people who are going to die?"

In response to another question on where she stands on the bill, Harwell said, "I've been undecided on this so I can continue to keep an open mind."

The bill died in a Senate committee during a special session of the Legislature in February and then again several weeks ago in Senate committee during the regular session.