- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Protesters supporting the passage of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal packed the state Capitol on Tuesday, singing, chanting and waving signs as lawmakers who defeated the measure last year returned for the first day of the legislative session.

The plan, called Insure Tennessee, which would extend health coverage to 280,000 Tennesseans, was defeated by fellow Republicans in the Legislature who balked at supporting a measure tied to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Despite the protesters’ enthusiasm, there appears to be little chance the heavy GOP majorities in both chambers will change their mind as they head into this year’s election season. All 99 House seats are up this fall, as are 16 of 33 Senate seats.

Haslam hasn’t been optimistic about reviving the proposal, remarking recently that “it wasn’t like we just barely lost” last year.

The governor is hoping to have better luck this year with a proposal in a completely different area: Education. Haslam is putting forth a proposal that establishes individual administrative boards at each of the six four-year schools under the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

A proposal to boost state revenues for road projects faces an uncertain fate among lawmakers wary about approving the state’s first gas tax hike in 25 years, especially during election season.

The Senate began its first floor session with a moment of silence in honor of the sailor and four Marines killed in a shooting rampage in Chattanooga in July.

The House swore in three new Republican members: Gary Hicks of Rogersville, Jamie Jenkins of Somerville and Jason Zachary of Knoxville.

The House Republican Caucus held a meeting after the floor session to determine whether to strip Majority Whip Jeremy Durham of his leadership post over a series of questionable actions, including writing a character reference for a former youth minister convicted on a federal charge of child porn possession and a year earlier becoming the subject of a drug task force investigation for allegedly altering the dates on two prescriptions.

The caucus decided to ban the news media from the meeting. Durham ultimately survived the effort.

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