Monthly Archives: December 2021

Notable deaths in 2021 included former U.S. Sen. Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Clark

Former Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) speaks with U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), right, at a reception before the state Repbuilcan Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner on June 15, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As 2021 draws to a close, we take a look back at some of the year’s notable deaths. They include former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, and radio talk show host Phil Valentine. Several former state lawmakers also passed away this year, including Mike Carter, Jim Coley, Roscoe Dixon, Thelma Harper, Jim Holcomb, Cotton Ivy, Carl Moore, and David Shepard.

Here is a roundup of the year’s obituaries, as culled from the print edition of the The Tennessee Journal:

Retired Memphis Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. died at age 64. Appointed to the bench in 1995, Beasley presided over several high-profile cases. They included the trial of Jessie Dotson, who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing six people in 2008. Beasley previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Memphis, where he was part of the team prosecuting Charles McVean, a commodities broker who allegedly supplied the money to offer a $10,000 bribe to Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to vote in favor of a gambling bill. McNally was wearing a wire for investigators as part of the FBI’s Rocky Top corruption probe. The case ended in a hung jury. 

Republican Bill Brock, who ended Albert Gore Sr.’s 32-year political career by defeating the Carthage Democrat in the 1970 U.S. Senate race, died at age 90. Brock lost his re-election bid in 1976, but would go on to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and was later named U.S. trade representative and labor secretary in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the 1970 race, Brock painted Gore as a liberal who was out of touch with Tennesseans on matters like school busing, gun control, school prayer, and the Vietnam war. His campaign slogan, “Bill Brock Believes in the Things We Believe In,” was criticized as playing into the racial fears of disaffected whites. When asked about the campaign in later years, Brock insisted it wasn’t focused on anything but bona fide issues. Six years later, Brock was put on the defensive for his vocal support of President Richard Nixon during Watergate, a poor economy, and the disclosure that the heir to a candy company fortune had paid just $2,000 in federal income taxes. Buttons declaring “I paid more taxes than Brock” became popular, and Democrat Jim Sasser went on to win the race by 5 percentage points.

Eddie Bryan, a longtime leader of the Tennessee AFLCIO, died at age 88. The Nashville native was first elected secretary-treasurer in 1981 and held the position until his retirement in 2011.

Frank Cagle, conservative columnist who relished poison pen, died at 72.  Cagle stepped down as managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2001 to become deputy to then-Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe. He was later named communications director for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Democrat Phil Bredesen. But Cagle was always best at calling out officials’ shortcomings rather than propping them up. After Bredesen won the governor’s race, Cagle launched a talk radio show and later returned as an opinion writer for Metro Pulse, the News Sentinel, and Knox TN Today (he estimated in 2018 he had written more than a million words worth of columns over 30 years). Cagle had hoped to highlight what he saw as all-powerful House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s bullying ways when he referred to him in print in 1998 as “the Antichrist.” Much to Cagle’s chagrin, the Covington Democrat turned the tables by skillfully presenting himself as the victim of vicious attacks in the press. On a visit to the Capitol Hill press room more than 20 years later, Cagle shook his head at the memory, saying he had inadvertently managed to stir public sympathy for the iron-fisted Naifeh, who would remain in charge of the chamber for another decade. Cagle joked he expected the “Antichrist” line to appear on his gravestone.

Todd Campbell, a longtime legal adviser to Al Gore who was later named to the federal court bench in Nashville, died at age 64. The cause was a neurodegenerative disease Campbell had battled for years. Campbell, who as an attorney specialized in election law and constitutional matters, had worked on Gore’s presidential and Senate campaigns. He later served as counsel for the 1992 presidential transition followed by two years in the vice president’s office. Campbell had recently returned to private practice in Nashville when Gore recommended him to fill a federal court vacancy in the Middle District of Tennessee in 1995. Campbell presided over several high-profile legal disputes, including the Brian A. v. Sundquist class action case over foster care, which led to a 2001 consent decree requiring court supervision of the Department of Children’s Service for the next 15 years. Campbell in 2008 sentenced former state Sen. John Ford (D-Memphis) to 14 years in prison for wire fraud and concealment involving more than $850,000 in “consulting fees” he received from TennCare contractors while serving as a state lawmaker. His conviction was later thrown out by the 6th Circuit on the basis that Ford’s failure to report the consulting income to the Senate and state Registry wasn’t a crime under the federal statute prosecutors charged him with.

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Tenn. lawmaker indicted on federal campaign finance charges is asking for donations

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) recently got his federal trial on campaign finance charges moved until January 2023. Then he started going about the business of raising money for his re-election bid next year.

“The Liberals have found an opponent to run against me!” Kelsey says in the fundraising appeal. “This race is the number one target for Democrats in the state of Tennessee and last election we won by only 51-49%!”

Kelsey makes no mention of his legal issues in the fundraising email.

Prosecutors allege Kelsey funneled money from his state account through other political action committees to a national conservative group to spend on radio ads in support of his ill-fated 2016 congressional bid. Kelsey has denied the charges and denounced the case as a political witch hunt.

It remains to be seen how enthusiastic potential donors will be about giving money to the indicted senator, especially when campaign finance disclosures due at the end of next month will reveal who has contributed to the embattled lawmaker.

Here’s the invite to Jan. 4 the fundraiser:

Most read TNJ blog posts of 2021

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The TNJ: On the Hill blog has published 326 posts in 2021. Here are the 10 that garnered the most attention from readers:

10. Speaker Sexton strips Griffey of committee assignments. March 25, 2021.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton stripped Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) of his committee assignments. The move comes after Griffey’s unsuccessful attempt earlier this week to pull an e-verify bill that had earlier been defeated in a subcommittee straight to floor. Griffey was later restored to his committees.

9. GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal. March 15, 2021.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) introduced legislation declaring that statues on the second level of the state Capitol — including a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest —shall never be altered. And it would be an impeachable offense for any governor to do so. The bill the didn’t pass and the bust was later moved to the Tennessee State Museum.

8. Ford picks Memphis Regional Megasite for $5.6B electric vehicle and battery plant. Sept. 27, 2021.

Ford announced plans to build a $5.6 billion electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility on the sprawling Memphis Regional Megasite. The Dearborn, Mich-based automaker said the project dubbed Blue Oval City will create nearly 6,000 jobs.

7. Sexton threatens abstentions on Ford deal if there is no second session on COVID-19 mandates. Oct. 1, 2021.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton threatened that Republicans could sit on their hands rather than vote for the incentive package to secure Ford’s massive investment in West Tennessee if there wasn’t going to be another special session on COVID-19 mandates. While Gov. Bill Lee ultimately declined to call another session, Senate Speaker Randy McNally dropped his opposition lawmakers calling themselves back to Nashville. The Ford incentives passed overwhelmingly.

6. How they voted: House COVID bill limps across finish line. Oct. 30, 2021.

After much chest-beating and saber-rattling, the House backed off on several provisions of its special session bill aimed at blocking COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements. When the final vote was taken at 1:15 a.m. on a Saturday, the measure received the support of just 57 Republicans — a significant drop from the unanimous 73 who signed on to the petition to hold the the special session.

5. 79 special session bills have been filed in the House, but here are the 8 that matter most. Oct. 27, 2021.

House members submitted dozens of bills in advance of a special session aimed at dialing back COVID-19 mandates (among other things). But the last eight dropped in the hopper before the filing deadline are the ones most worth paying attention to. They all had one key thing in common: their sponsors were House Speaker Cameron Sexton and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally.

4. Fired chief vaccine officer’s husband ran against erstwhile Lee ally Casada. July 13, 2021.

The state’s firing of its top vaccination officer, Michelle Fiscus, sparked national outrage. Fiscus grabbed the media spotlight by claiming she had become a scapegoat for conservative lawmakers’ anger over the department’s efforts to vaccinate teeenagers against COVID-19. There was a political subcurrent to the firing. Fiscus’ husband, Brad, ran as an independent candidate against state Rep. Glen Casada in last year’s election, finishing third.

3. Tennessee congressional delegation recoils at Capitol incursion. Jan. 6, 2021.

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, who called for active duty troops to be activated to quell social unrest during last year’s campaign, denounced the breach of the U.S. Capitol by demonstrators supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his electoral loss. “What is happening at the U.S. Capitol right now is not peaceful, this is violence,” Hagerty said in a tweet. “I condemn it in the strongest terms. We are a nation of laws and this must stop.”

2. Former commissioner reports Rep. Weaver to DC police. Jan. 14, 2021. 

A former commissioner in then-Gov. Ned McWherter’s administration reported state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) to law enforcement for taking part in Washington protest that turned into a riot. “I respectfully inform you that Terri Lynn Weaver… was a participant,” Dudley Taylor wrote to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee. “She posted photos and informed The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville, that she was ‘in the thick of it.’ She claimed to be a ‘patriot,’ of course.”

1. Last place you’ll ever visit? Tennessee’s vaccine policy becomes late-night TV fodder. July 15, 2021.

Late-night TV comedian Stephen Colbert is taking aim at Tennessee’s decision to fire its vaccine chief and stop marketing any immunizations to children. “Tennessee, the Volunteer State, has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country,” Colbert said in his monologue Wednesday. “And they aim to keep it that way.”

Colbert suggested the state is proud of it’s anti-vax ways, and his program created a new tourism ad to suit: “Discover Tennessee: Scenic lakes, beautiful state parks, and soon: polio!” the ad’s narrators says. “There are just so many things to do — and catch — in Tennessee.”

Early TNJ edition alert: An interview with the new Chattanooga mayor and a deep dive into the GOP’s state House redistricting plan

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

It’s the year’s last print edition of The Tennessee Journal! Don’t all rejoice at once! Here’s what we delved into this week:

— New Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly sits down for an interview with TNJ to discuss his unlikely path to elected office and his plans for the state’s fourth biggest city. Kelly talks early childhood education, the challenges facing midsized cities, and his efforts to bridge racial gaps.

— Redistricting update: A look at how the Republican plan for redrawing state House districts might affect incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

Also: Richard Briggs wonders if politics might soon inform hemorrhoid treatment decisions, Katrina Robinson gets pretrial diversion in her second federal fraud case, and our annual look at what Tennessee politicos should get for Christmas (spoiler alert: nothing good).

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Happy holidays!

Here are the counties holding primaries for school board

Under a new law passed last month, county parties can decide whether to hold primaries for school board elections rather than going with nonpartisan contests. According to Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, Republican primaries will be held 56 counties along with Democratic ones in 32.

Here is the full list:

Republican primariesDemocratic Primaries
AndersonBlount
BedfordBradley
BentonCarroll
BlountCarter
BradleyCoffee
CannonDavidson
CarrollDeKalb
CarterFayette
CheathamHamblen
ChesterHamilton
CoffeeHardeman
CrockettHawkins
CumberlandJefferson
DavidsonKnox
DecaturLoudon
DeKalbMadison
FayetteMarion
FranklinMcMinn
GraingerMonroe
GreeneMontgomery
HamblenObion
HamiltonPolk
HardemanRobertson
HardinSevier
HawkinsSmith
HendersonSullivan
HumphreysSumner
JeffersonWashington
KnoxWeakley
LawrenceWhite
LoudonWilliamson
MaconWilson
Madison
Marion
McMinn
Meigs
Monroe
Montgomery
Obion
Overton
Polk
Putnam
Rhea
Robertson
Rutherford
Sevier
Smith
Sullivan
Sumner
Tipton
Van Buren
Washington
Weakley
White
Williamson
Wilson
Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), second from right, was a main sponsor of the partisan school board bill.

Kelsey gets yearlong delay for federal campaign finance trial

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has been granted a yearlong delay before the start of his federal campaign finance trial.

Originally scheduled to begin next month, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw ordered the proceedings to be re-set for Jan. 23, 2023. The motion to delay the case was made by Kelsey’s legal team and unopposed by the U.S. attorney’s office or codefendant Josh Smith.

The attorneys for all parties met with Crenshaw behind closed doors for 45 minutes on Monday morning while Kelsey and Smith urgently whispered to each other in the courtroom that was devoid of spectators other than two reporters. Upon ending the in camera meeting, the public portion of the hearing lasted about 10 minutes to formalize the new trial date, which Crenshaw described as “firm.”

As previously reported in this week’s Tennessee Journal Kelsey attorney Paul Bruno said in a legal filing he faced a conflict with the original Jan. 18 court date because he is scheduled to go to trial in a quadruple homicide case in Nashville the following week. Bruno added the government has already provided “a significant amount of discovery” in the case and indicated more would be forthcoming. Given the volume of materials in the case, Kelsey and his legal team did not believe they had enough time to prepare for a trial next month.

Prosecutors say Kelsey funneled campaign funds from his state account through other political action committees to the American Conservative Union, the Washington-based organizer of CPAC conferences. The bulk of the money was then allegedly spent on radio ads supporting Kelsey’s unsuccessful bid for the 8th Congressional District in 2016. Kelsey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has claimed to be the subject of a political witch hunt.

New TNJ edition alert: Supreme Court finalists in their own words, Little Debbie lawsuit

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it this week:

— We spent two days at judicial selection hearings so you didn’t have to. Here’s what the finalists for the Supreme Court had to say about legislative intent, their judicial role models, and the significance of the Federalist Society.

— Little Debbie snack maker files lawsuit to block new Pharmacy Benefit Manager law championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

— Of the state’s 15 largest counties, all but two are moving to partisan school board nomination contests.

— Indicted senators update: Kelsey seeks delay for federal campaign finance trial, prosecutors seek to seize Robinson property following conviction.

Also: The state’s revenue collection surge continues, racial tension on the MTSU board, and a difference in perception about automotive incentives in the Beacon Center’s Pork Report.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

UT report finds spending surge among Tennesseans

Tennesseans are spending more and the state’s gross domestic product is growing — even when adjusted for inflation. That’s according to a new report by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Here’s the full release from UT:

KNOXVILLE — Tennesseans are going out and spending money again—a trend signaled by a surge in the state’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, which grew 5.6 percent in 2021. Real GDP is projected to continue growing in 2022 at 4.2 percent, according to a report released today by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Consumers are spending more confidently due to a third round of federal stimulus checks and the distribution of effective COVID-19 vaccines, which led to the return of in-person services for many consumers.

“The economic recovery has been incredibly strong so far, and the Tennessee economy seems to be on solid footing,” said Larry Kessler, research associate professor in the Boyd Center and project director for the 2022 Economic Report to the Governor of the State of Tennessee. “Real GDP has already recovered to prepandemic levels due to a strong surge in consumer spending. Employment in the state has been a little slower to recover, but we expect job levels to recover by the first half of 2022.”

The report includes a deep dive into the employment recovery in Tennessee and examines how the recovery differs by age, race, gender, marital status, and education, as well as by industrial sectors and geographic area. The state’s labor force participation rate, which sat at 61.8 percent before the pandemic, is projected to reach only 60.9 percent in 2022 and inch up to 61.4 percent in 2023. There is no single explanation for the slower labor market recovery, but many Tennesseans have reflected on their work–life balance since the pandemic began, and some have decided to switch jobs while others may not be as quick to re-enter the labor force for various reasons.

As of October 2021, the labor force among people aged 55 or older has decreased by nearly 55 percent nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic. Only the 35–44 age group has returned to prepandemic levels. There are still about one million fewer people aged 20–34 in the labor force, and another 800,000 fewer people aged 45–54. These changes could be due to workplace safety concerns as new COVID-19 variants emerge, families opting to live on one income instead of two, childcare issues, or an acceleration in retirements.

Despite the slower labor market recovery, employment in Tennessee is projected to reach prepandemic levels by the second quarter of 2022—a quarter ahead of the nation’s projected labor market recovery. The unemployment rate is projected to settle around 4.7 percent for 2021 and fall to 3.9 percent in 2022.

“Following a record-breaking year in terms of both job commitments and capital investment, the state economy continues its strong recovery,” said Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Tennesseans are resilient and the state is open for business, as evidenced by the unemployment rate falling closer to prepandemic levels. This is good news for our businesses, our recruitment efforts, and the Tennessee economy as a whole.”

Nonfarm employment is projected to increase by 2.8 percent for 2021 and 3.1 percent in 2022, recovering to prepandemic levels by the second quarter of 2022. State payrolls will get a boost from the manufacturing sector, which is expected to see an employment increase of 3.8 percent for 2021. The hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector is projected see employment expand by 5.9 percent in 2021 and sharply increase by 10.2 percent in 2022 as consumers continue to get more comfortable with in-person services and rising wages attract more workers. Worker burnout is likely driving a labor force contraction in the education and health services sector, with employment falling by 0.6 percent in 2021, but it should see an uptick of 2.2 percent growth in 2022.

“There are still a number of downside risks to economic growth, including supply chain issues, higher prices, and new COVID-19 cases and variants,” Kessler said. “But the state economy has proven to be very resilient, and we project strong economic growth in the near term.”

The report examines the long-term economic outlook for Tennessee as well as the results of the 2020 census. The state grew faster than the US overall, with the population increasing by 8.9 percent versus the national rate of 7.4 percent. Rising death rates and declining birth rates have led to slower growth over the past three decades, but a strong rate of migration into the state has helped keep population growth from slowing even further. Tennessee added 565,000 people between 2010 and 2020, largely in Middle Tennessee’s Davidson County and the counties surrounding it. Rural areas are experiencing slower or even negative growth across the state.

Since 1975, the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, housed within UT’s Haslam College of Business, has provided Tennessee’s governor with an annual economic report that includes an in-depth analysis of state and national trends and forecasts.

Lee announces $15M for new ‘Bill Dance Signature Lakes’ program

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee says the state will spend $15 million to make improvements to 18 bodies of water that will be designated as Bill Dance Signature Lakes after the Collierville-based bass fishing star.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office.

Nashville, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Lee and fishing icon Bill Dance today announced a new initiative to improve and enhance Tennessee lakes, increase visitation and honor Dance’s legacy with the creation of Bill Dance Signature Lakes. TWRA and the State of Tennessee will invest $15 million in improvements both above and below the water at 18 lakes which bear fishing legend Dance’s stamp of approval. Tennesseans will benefit from increased stocking, habitat and fisheries management, as well as improved access for fishing and boating. The collaborative effort between Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Department of Tourist Development seeks to solidify Tennessee as the heart of fishing in the southeast and drive economic activity across the state.

Tennessee is home to half-a-million acres of lakes and 1.7 million people who fish according to the American Sportfishing Association. Bill Dance Signature Lakes touches 39 counties including 22 at-risk or economically distressed counties, and is an important step in helping those communities create new revenue streams through increased visitation. Fishing generates $1.2 billion in economic impact annually and supports 7,480 jobs across the state.

This initiative to improve public facilities and habitat at lakes across Tennessee comes at an important time as many of the state’s lakeside communities were devastated by severe weather over the weekend.

“Bill Dance is a tremendous advocate for our Tennessee rural communities and we are thrilled to partner with him,” said Gov. Lee. “The Bill Dance Signature Lakes highlights the importance of lakeside tourism with premier fishing opportunities and we believe this project is especially important as communities recover from the recent storms.”

“I’m unbelievably humbled and excited to be involved in such a helpful project that will benefit so many people and our natural resources in my great home state of Tennessee,” said Bill Dance. “You can bet your favorite lure this project will definitely have a ripple effect for a mighty long time, not only giving the weekend fisherman, but tournament anglers a wonderful fishery as well, thanks to the great state of Tennessee and my friends at TWRA.”

Bill Dance Signature Lakes includes nine large reservoirs with a proven track record for quality fishing for a variety of fish. In partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority, reservoirs will receive new or upgraded best-in-class ramps to improve public access for both recreational and tournament anglers. Each of the 18 lakes will see such above-water upgrades as courtesy docks, ample parking, additional access points, fishing piers and signage, to name a few. Several smaller lakes, many of which are located within Tennessee State Parks, will be managed intensively by TWRA for Bill Dance approved family fishing with regular stockings to ensure the best chance for success.

Each lake was selected by agency partners and Bill Dance for its ability to be a destination fishing location and provide quality fishing fun for avid anglers as well as families.  Endorsed by Bill Dance Outdoors, projects are slated to begin in 2022 and near completion by fall of 2024.

The Bill Dance Signature Lakes at launch are as follows:

— 1000 Acre Lake, Huntington, TN (Carroll County)

–Brown’s Creek Lake, Natchez Trace (Henderson County)

— Chickamauga Lake, Harrison Bay State Park & Chester Frost Park (Hamilton, Rhea, Meigs, McMinn and Bradley Counties)

— Dale Hollow Lake, North Central TN (Clay, Pickett, Fentress and Overton Counties)

— Douglas Lake, East TN (Jefferson, Sevier and Cocke Counties)

— Fall Creek Falls Lake, Fall Creek Falls State Park (Van Buren County)

— Herb Parsons Lake (Fayette County)

— Kentucky Lake, Paris Landing State Park (Henry, Stewart, Houston, Benton, Decatur, Perry and Humphreys Counties)

— Lake Acorn, Montgomery Bell State Park (Dickson County)

— Lake Woodhaven, Montgomery Bell State Park (Dickson County)

— Norris Lake, Northeast TN (Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger and Union Counties)

— Old Hickory Lake, Middle TN (Sumner and Davidson Counties)

— Pickwick Lake, Pickwick Landing State Park (Hardin County)

— Pin Oak Lake, Natchez Trace State Park (Henderson County)

— Reelfoot Lake, Reelfoot Lake State Park (Lake and Obion Counties)

— Tim’s Ford Lake, Tim’s Ford State Park (Franklin and Moore Counties)

— Travis McNatt Lake, Big Hill Pond State Park (McNairy County)

— Watauga Lake, Northeast TN (Johnson and Carter Counties)

Lee boosts pay for Tennessee prison guards

Republican Bill Lee speaks at a rally in Franklin on Oct. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is boosting starting pay by 37% for newly hired prison guards and hiking salaries by at least 15% for current corrections officers.

State Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) praised the move:

“This is great news not only for the deserving workers who receive the pay raise and their families, but for the safety of all Tennesseans. These positions are extremely important to operations in our prisons and are some of the most challenging and dangerous jobs in state government.  Governor Lee’s action to increase salaries is critical in keeping our veteran officers on the job whose valuable experience helps to make our prisons safe. The increase in salaries will benefit many correctional officers and help alleviate the problem Tennessee has experienced in filling and keeping correctional officers in a very competitive labor market.”

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a competitive 37% salary increase for new Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) correctional officers amid nationwide staffing challenges, effective Dec. 16.

“As we face staffing shortages across the country, rewarding officers with competitive pay will ensure we recruit and retain the most highly qualified individuals in our workforce,” said Gov. Lee. “These Tennesseans play a crucial role in ensuring public safety and we remain committed to valuing their important work.”

The 37% salary increase for new TDOC correctional officers will raise annual starting pay to $44,500. Current security staff will receive a minimum 15% pay increase.

Additionally, TDOC provides a competitive benefits package including:

  • Insurance coverage and retirement benefits
  • Paid holidays and vacation
  • Tuition reimbursement and college degree programs
  • Equipment and uniforms provided
  • Overtime/compensatory time pay

TDOC will continue to offer a $5,000 hiring bonus and part-time opportunities for current or retired law enforcement to meet staffing needs.

“The men and women who work in facilities across Tennessee are dedicated public servants,” said TDOC Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton. “This salary increase makes our agency more competitive in attracting new talent and is a well-deserved raise for those currently serving our state.”

Individuals interested in a TDOC career can find more information and apply here.