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The envy of many… Governor Lee delivers State of East Tennessee address at ETSU 

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
JOHNSON CITY – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee stood before a large gathering inside the Millenium Center on the campus of East Tennessee State University on Thursday evening and gave a recap of some of the legislation that will be presented in 2020 and accomplishments from 2019 as he updated those in attendance during the State of East Tennessee address.
The Governor stated that although much of what he was sharing during the address came from his remarks during his State of Tennessee address, he felt that it was important to visit different regions in the state and look into the eyes of those from throughout the state as he shared his vision for the state.
“Serving as your Governor this past year I have seen a lot of good that we can be proud of,” Gov. Lee said. “In 2019, we were named the best physically managed state in America for the first time.
“In the past year, Tennessee has garnered 108 projects that have created 16,500 jobs resulting in over $3.5 billion dollars worth of investment in our state. In East Tennessee alone we saw 30 projects – commitments of 4,000 jobs and $1.3 billion dollars of capital investment in this region.
“We are the envy of many states because of our economic activity. The state of our state is strong and we need to work together to keep it that way.”
Governor Lee spent several moments of his address talking about education in the state while noting additional legislation that he is proposing to make sure that the over one million students in Tennessee gain the best education that can be afforded them.
“In education, in 2019 we made our kids safer when we made the investment of $30 million dollars on school safety and supporting our school resource officers across the state,” Gov. Lee stated.
“Teachers make it happen,” Gov. Lee went on to add. “No teacher that you and I know don’t do it just for the pay but workers are worthy of their pay. Teaching is a calling.
“It’s passion that brings teachers into a classroom but our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work that they do than what they currently are.
“This year I am proposing the largest investment in K-12 teacher salaries in Tennessee. Our budget sets aside $117 million additional dollars – an amount that equals four percent of the state’s contribution to teacher salaries,” Gov. Lee continued.
“We have to work harder to make teaching a more attractive position to younger people. We are looking at moving the minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $40,000 over the next two years.
“This change to the salary structure will reward teachers across the state but it will also make the teaching profession more attractive to those looking to enter this honored profession.”
The Governor took time to say that education is just not about a test score but making sure that the end result are young people who are ready to tackle the real world.
“Education is not just about a test score – assessments are a valuable tool but if we are doing our job correctly we won’t just see academic statistics improve but we will see the most important stat of all and that is students are prepared to become productive members of society whether that’s prepared to enter the workforce or attending college,” said Gov. Lee. “That will be the way we know we are being successful.”
During his address on education, the Governor also mentioned the importance of stem-based education pointing out that part of his legislature for 2020 is to increase the number of stem-based schools.
In talking about the stem-based initiative, Elizabethton High School was mentioned as part of a program called the Give Grant that benefited to assist students.
“We were able to increase stem-based education for more than 300 high school students in Elizabethton through a $1 million Give Grant there,” Gov. Lee said. “We made those grants all across this state.
“This is one of my favorite jobs as governor is to see the eyes of students seeing how excited that they are when we make these types of investments in them and their school.”
Governor Lee also touched on another important aspect that touches much of Tennessee and that is criminal justice reform. The Governor said that it is important that those who are re-entering society have the ability to get a job so that it can help prevent them from returning to prison.
“We’re making these investments because, as our state’s elected leaders, we must remain aware of serving every part and every person of our state,” said Gov. Lee. “That’s why I’ve made criminal justice reform such a large priority because every person in Tennessee wants and deserves to live in a safe neighborhood.
“When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer.”
With mental health being a huge issue in the state, the Governor also is seeking legislation to create a $250 million dollars protected mental health trust fund to meet the needs of those who need help.
Governor Lee received a standing ovation when he addressed the importance of protecting the most vulnerable person in the state – the unborn.
“I want to talk one moment about the most important thing that we can do to be pro-family in this state and that is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in Tennessee and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn,” the Governor stated.
“Family is the backbone of our society and the most important thing we can do is to support the family. I have proposed legislation that will defend and protect the life of an unborn baby from the time that their heartbeat can be detected.”
Gov. Lee said that this never became more important to him until a recent event in his own family challenged him further.
“I want to share with you a personal story that strengthened my resolve,” Gov. Lee continued. “A few months ago, my son and wife had identical twin baby girls delivered months before they were due.
“I walked into the neonatal intensive care unit and saw a one-pound, five-ounce little girl with wires and tubes and monitors fighting for her life. When I saw Annie I was reminded every life is precious and because every life is precious we will support pro-life legislation in this state.”
In closing, Gov. Lee gave everyone a moment to reflect on how great it is to be a Tennessean.
“Let’s all be reminded that we are blessed to call this state home. This year is a special year in Tennessee because 100 years ago our nation played a pivotal role in helping establish the 19th amendment to give women the right to vote as we cast the deciding vote,” added the Governor.
“Our differences shouldn’t divide us but should challenge us to take the higher and more difficult road of understanding and respect and common purpose. God has given us great favor and He has blessed us with a great opportunity and a great responsibility to affect positive change in our communities and our state.
“I am grateful to be a part of that opportunity to lead so together we can make Tennessee one of the greatest states in America.”