Gov. Lee shares priorities in State of the State address

Published 11:03 am Friday, February 16, 2024

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Gov. Bill Lee in his sixth State of the State address highlighted his legislative priorities for 2024 along with a proposed $52.6 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year that enhances education, strengthens public safety, cuts taxes and supports families across Tennessee.
The governor’s proposed budget continued to make key investments in strategic areas like education with more than $261 million in new funding for K-12 public schools, including teacher pay increases.
Education remains a top priority this year. Lee underscored his focus on improving the state’s public schools, while also ensuring parents have the freedom to make education decisions specific to their child’s needs. He expressed his intentions to provide school choice for every Tennessee family through his Education Freedom Scholarship Act Proposal. Lee also noted that $1.8 billion in new state dollars have been invested in public education during the last five years. Last year, the General Assembly approved the largest pay increase for teachers in state history and committed to making Tennessee one of the top 10 states for highest teacher salaries by 2026. “We have placed an unprecedented focus on public education, and I intend to continue that every year,” Lee said. “We can give parents choice and support public schools at the same time. You’ll hear me say that over and over again – these two ideas are not in conflict.”
Other initiatives include a $410 million franchise tax cut to support Tennessee’s economy, expanding rural health care access and the creation of four new state parks. Lee credited the General Assembly’s unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility as the reason for the state’s firm financial foundation. Following several years of extraordinary revenue growth, revenues are stabilizing. Good fiscal governance has well-positioned Tennessee to continue its record of fiscal responsibility with a balanced budget, healthy savings, and tax cuts. “Tennessee’s fiscal management approach has set the standard for how states across the country should operate, and families and businesses nationwide have taken note,” Lee said. Lee added that Tennessee’s economy is “very strong” and “built to withstand even the pressure of our country’s uncertain economic future.” He also touted the state’s AAA bond rating, which it has held for nine consecutive years.
Over the past five years, Tennessee has been ranked as the fastest-growing economy of all 50 states, the number one state for fiscal stability, a top state for businesses, the second lowest-taxed state per capita and the lowest debt state in America,” Lee said. “Any state would envy the position that we’ve been in. The members of the Tennessee General Assembly – all of you here tonight as well as your predecessors – are the ones to thank because of your unwavering commitment to keeping our state in a strong financial position, by balancing our budget, maintaining a healthy savings account and cuttings taxes for Tennesseans year after year.”
Members of the General Assembly will review Lee’s proposed budget in the coming weeks and make their own recommendations.
Republicans have filed legislation aimed at preventing roadways from being illegally blocked by protesters in Tennessee. House Bill 2031, sponsored by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, would increase the penalty for intentionally obstructing roadways or other areas used for transportation from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. The legislation would also allow anyone who suffered injury or loss as a result of the crime to seek compensatory damages through legal action. “Blocking highways and bridges for a protest without obtaining the necessary approval beforehand creates an extremely dangerous situation for both participants and the general public,” Barrett said. “Protests have their time and place, but this type of behavior is unacceptable and must have more severe consequences.” A Class D felony is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.
If approved, House Bill 2031 would take effect July 1. House passes bill requiring judges to prioritize safety when setting bonds. House Republicans this week passed legislation prioritizing the safety of communities when pretrial decisions and bail determinations are made for a defendant. Present law requires bail to be set as low as the court determines is necessary to reasonably assure a defendant’s appearance in court.
House Bill 1642, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, does not do away with other mitigating bond factors a judge must consider when determining bond, but simply says the community’s safety must come first. Other factors, such as the nature of the offense, apparent probability of conviction, and likelihood of appearing for their court date, would still be considered. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support. The Senate chamber is expected to take up the companion version of the bill in the coming weeks.
Gov. Bill Lee has included funding to create four new state parks in Tennessee as part of his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposal would cost $63 million and would be the first step towards Lee’s goal of funding eight new state parks by the time he leaves office.
“Last year, we created a new conservation strategy to preserve the state for generations to come, but there’s more work to do. We’ve continually made investments in our state parks, which are the cornerstone of this conservation effort. This year’s proposed budget will take it to the next level.
The proposed new state parks include:
– Cardwell Mountain (Warren County): Cardwell Mountain is a local landmark in McMinnville. The 530-acre property includes a Native American earthen monument, rock art site and archaeological sites. It also contains a unique upland plateau and mountainous landscape that is bounded by the Collins River. The property was acquired in 2021 and is not currently open to the public. The budget includes funding for a visitors’ center and other amenities.
– Fort Southwest Point (Roane County): Currently managed by the city of Kingston, Fort Southwest Point was garrisoned by veterans of the American Revolution. The site is included on the National Register of Historic Places, and funding would be used for planning and staffing for the park.
– Head of the Crow (Franklin County): The park would include 4,258 acres that are currently managed as part of the South Cumberland State Park and contain the headwaters for Crow Creek. The property would join four state natural areas and provide better outdoor recreational opportunities in the area. The budget includes funding for infrastructure, a visitors’ center and other amenities.
– Ocoee River and Hiwassee Scenic River state parks (Polk County): Currently managed together, the proposed budget would split the Hiwassee Scenic River and Ocoee River into separate state parks. Funding would be used for campground upgrades at Hiwassee and additional staffing to allow recreational and natural resources to be managed independently. The General Assembly last year approved funding to create four new state parks: Devil’s Backbone State Park in Lewis County, Middle Fork Bottoms State Park in Madison County, North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Park in Hamilton and Sequatchie counties, and Scott’s Gulf Wilderness State Park in White County. Every Tennessean lives within an hour of at least one state park. Additional information about what each park offers can be found online at
A proposed program to help Tennessee communities recover from natural disasters advanced out of the House Departments and Agencies Subcommittee this week. House Bill1795, sponsored by State Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, would establish the Natural Disaster Relief Program to assist counties affected by a natural disaster. Grant funding could be used for infrastructure repairs, debris removal and life-saving emergency measures. “We had a tornado that affected many, many Tennesseans last year and as a state, I think we’re all trying to be proactive in finding ways where we can help the rural areas in the counties that maybe are not as fortunate,” Capley said Wednesday. In order to qualify for grant funding through the program, a county must have experienced a natural disaster that resulted in damages that did not qualify for federal relief. The county must also be under a state of emergency as well. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency would evaluate grant applications and distribute funding up to $250,000 per county, per year.
Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at curbing a disturbing increase in violent crimes committed by juveniles in Tennessee. House Bill 2126, filed by State Rep.Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, would allow local district attorneys and judges to determine if a juvenile age 15 and older should be transferred to adult criminal court when they are charged with committing or attempting to commit organized retail crime or theft of a firearm.The legislation addresses a dangerous trend in which minors are being recruited by adults to steal or break into businesses, homes or cars because there are fewer consequences for their actions. “This bill provides district attorneys and law enforcement with additional tools to fight gang violence,” Grills said. “Serious crimes should have serious consequences. Treating juveniles as adults in these cases acknowledges the severity of these crimes and will ensure victims’ rights are upheld. Our goal is to deter and redirect at-risk young people so they do not become repeat violent offenders in the future.” Existing state law already allows courts to transfer a juvenile to adult court for certain crimes, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child, aggravated rape of a child, aggravated robbery, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, kidnapping, commission of an act of terrorism, and carjacking. There were 13,700 juveniles arrested statewide for various crimes in 2022, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Of those arrests, 1,450 involved some form of theft or stolen property offenses while 424 were for weapons law violations.
(Rep. Holsclaw represents Elizabethton in the Tennessee Legislature)

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