NASHVILLE -- A Chattanooga minister and other supporters of Insure Tennessee were staging a sit-down demonstration this afternoon in front of Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell's legislative office as they seek to get the Medicaid expansion proposal to the Senate 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 to use federal funds available under the Affordable Care Act and provide Medicaid health coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans 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 to wrap up next week.
After Harwell told the demonstrators they were "welcome to stay as long as you'd like," one woman said "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.