A “popular agenda” for our new governor, legislature
Tennessee inaugurates a new governor on Saturday. The 111th General Assembly has already been sworn in. There are new committee chairs and new leaders in state departments.
All of these changes mean that it is time for our state to take a popular agenda seriously. Here’s what that should include:
Tennessee leads the country in rural hospital closures. This means that access to necessary care is becoming increasingly difficult for our most vulnerable citizens. Our state is also losing $ 3.8 million a day by refusing to expand Medicaid. Estimates from the University of Tennessee suggest that these funds could support at least 15,000 jobs in our rural communities.
The General Assembly passed a law in 2018 that would allow bartering of goods and services for health care. It’s not acceptable. We need real solutions to the health crisis, not a supply of chickens in exchange for a health check.
$ 10 minimum wage
Tennessee is one of six states that does not have a minimum wage. Twenty-eight states have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $ 7.25 an hour. Meanwhile, the cost of living is increasing across our state. Instead of standing up for workers, our legislature has been busy overturning local living wage laws.
Tennessee should establish a state minimum wage of $ 10 an hour that includes an automatic increase at least every two years. Supporting workers means supporting fair wages. Establishing a fixed minimum wage is an important step in this direction.
Expanded access to voters
Historically, Tennessee has one of the lowest voter turnout percentages in the country. We saw some improvement in 2018, but more can be done. Unfortunately, Tennessee puts a number of obstacles in the way of potential voters.
One solution to encourage voting is same-day voter registration. Citizens should be able to register and vote on the same day. Research shows that most potential voters engage in an election within the past two weeks. At that time, the current law prevents them from registering and voting. We have the technology and the resources to enable citizens to register and vote on the same day. Unless they fear democratic participation, our legislature should allow registration on the day of this session.
Control payday predators
Tennessee families lose more than $ 400 million in fees and interest paid to payday lenders and car title lenders each year. It is money drained from local economies. These predators trap citizens in desperate situations in a cycle of debt. What seems like a little help in an emergency often turns into a crisis that gets out of hand. Tennessee payday lenders are permitted to charge interest rates of 460%. Some of these legalized loan sharks even offer a “free first loan,” like a drug dealer tricking a client with that addicting first move.
Tennessee should follow in the footsteps of states like Georgia, North Carolina, and South Dakota. These states have taken significant steps to cap interest rates and, in some cases, end the practice of payday lending.
At a minimum, our state should adopt a cap rate of 36% and require lenders to extend the repayment period of a loan and to make efforts to determine a borrower’s ability to repay. These measures will put an end to the industry’s most egregious practices.
For Tennessee residents who need emergency cash, many will find that community banks and credit unions offer small dollar loans at reasonable rates.
Tennessee can be an amazing place to live, work, and raise a family. Our potential is limitless. Our policymakers must step up and adopt a grassroots agenda that provides better access to health care, empowers workers, extends voting rights, and ends the debt trap caused by wage predators.
The only thing preventing Tennessee from moving forward is the lack of political will. The new faces and voices in power must stand up for us all.
Andy Spears is the Executive Director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a statewide nonprofit advocacy organization focused on improving the quality of life for all Tennessee.