Bill Lee

Lee raises more than $3M for re-election bid

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will report raising more than $3 million in the period covering the second half of 2021, The Tennessee Journal has learned. The Republican had about $5 million on hand as he began his re-election year.

Lee partially self-funded his 2018 gubernatorial bid. He’s not expected to report any loans to his re-election campaign.

Lee has yet to attract an opponent for the GOP nomination. Several Democrats have announced plans to run against him, including Nashville physician Jason Martin and Memphis City Council member JB Smiley Jr.

Lee last summer reported raising $3.6 million since being elected governor in 2018 and spending $1.85 million over the same period. Lee’s biggest donor since his defeat of Democrat Karl Dean was the Pharma Tennessee PAC, which had given $47,600 through July. Next were $24,600 each from St. Louis-based managed care company Centene and the PACs of H.G. Hill Realty and the David Volkert & Associates construction engineering firm.

The Butler Snow law firm’s PAC has ponied up $20,900, while Amazon and the HDR architecture and construction services company of Brentwood kicked in another $20,000.

The deadline to submit the most recent campaign finance reports is Monday, which is the same day the governor is scheduled to deliver the final State of the State address of his first term in office.

Lee administration approves $28M in block grants

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has approved $28.5 million in block grants for 62 community projects. Here’s the release from the Department of Economic and Community Development:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe recently approved $28.5 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which will assist communities with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitations and health and safety initiatives.

“Investing in local infrastructure is one of our top priorities, and these funds will play a vital role as communities work to update their assets and keep their communities safe,” said Lee. “These recipients are proactively preparing their communities for future economic opportunities and continued growth.”

“Community Development Block Grants are an enormous asset to communities across Tennessee,” Rolfe said. “The 62 communities receiving CDBG funding will be better equipped for future economic opportunities, which in turn, will help our state continue to grow and succeed. I congratulate these recipients and look forward to seeing the successes in each community in the years to come.”

The allocation of CDBG funds is based on priorities set through the public meeting process at the local community level. The CDBG program is funded through HUD and administered in Tennessee by the Department of Economic and Community Development. Funds are available for water and sewer improvements and new extensions, housing rehabilitation and health and safety projects.

Here are the 62 Community Development Block Grants:

CommunityProjectAmount
AltamontWater System Improvements$630,000
Bethel SpringsWater System Improvements$313,049
BolivarSewer System Improvements$361,000
BrightonDrainage Improvements$326,679
BrownsvilleSewer System Improvements$630,000
BrucetonSewer System Improvements$511,750
Carroll CountyFire Protection$371,700
CarthageFire Protection$296,024
CelinaSewer System Improvements$630,000
Claiborne CountyWater Line Extension$630,000
Clay CountyEMS Improvements$206,706
CookevilleSewer System Improvements$580,675
DecaturWater System Improvements$630,000
DecherdEmergency Warning System$130,500
DucktownWater System Improvements$630,000
EnglewoodSewer System Improvements$630,000
EnvilleHousing Rehabilitation$525,000
Grand JunctionSewer System Improvements$209,760
GraysvilleFire Protection$420,000
Grundy CountySewer System Improvements$630,000
Hardin CountyFire Protection$290,112
HarrimanWater System Improvements$630,000
HarrogateSewer Line Extension$474,030
Henderson CountyFire Protection$288,176
HuntsvilleSewer System Improvements$630,000
JacksboroSewer System Improvements$630,000
JamestownSewer System Improvements$630,000
Jefferson CitySewer System Improvements$629,993
Jefferson CountyEMS Improvements$420,000
Johnson CountyEMS Improvements$293,582
Lauderdale CountyWater System Improvements$547,662
Lawrence CountyWater Line Extension$630,000
LawrenceburgStreet Light Improvements$268,180
LewisburgSewer System Improvements$450,000
LoudonSewer System Improvements$630,000
LuttrellSewer System Improvements$524,342
MasonWater Line Extension$431,935
Meigs CountyWater System Improvements$630,000
Monroe CountyWater Line Extension$630,000
Mount CarmelWater System Improvements$476,182
OakdaleEMS Improvements$290,535
Obion CountySewer System Improvements$564,000
OneidaWater System Improvements$630,000
Overton CountyFire Protection$420,000
PulaskiSewer System Improvements$630,000
Putnam CountyFire Protection$318,750
RutherfordWater System Improvements$276,854
SaltilloEmergency Warning System$112,601
SavannahSewer System Improvements$600,000
Sevier CountyWater System Improvements$215,426
Smith CountyEmergency Rescue Improvements$285,600
South CarthageHousing Rehabilitation$298,100
Spring CitySewer System Improvements$630,000
SpringfieldSewer System Improvements$630,000
StantonSewer System Improvements$513,188
SurgoinsvilleWater System Improvements$468,700
Tipton CountyEmergency Rescue Improvements$355,833
TusculumFire Protection$298,075
Unicoi CountySewer Line Extension$377,311
Van Buren CountyEMS Improvements$341,088
VanleerWater System Improvements$458,000
Warren CountyFire Protection$370,829

Lee to deliver last State of the State of his first term on Jan. 31

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to deliver his fourth State of the State address –the last of his first term in office — on Monday, Jan. 31. Lee is seeking a second term this fall.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced he will deliver his fourth State of the State address to the General Assembly and fellow Tennesseans on Monday, January 31 at 6 p.m. CT. The joint session will take place in the House Chamber of the Tennessee State Capitol.

“I look forward to sharing my vision for Tennessee, including my budget and legislative priorities for the year,” said Gov. Lee. “Tennessee shows the rest of the country that America hasn’t lost her way, and with the support of the General Assembly, we’ll continue to ensure Tennessee is a national leader for opportunity and freedom.”

The address can be found on Gov. Lee’s Facebook and YouTube channels and will be aired statewide.

TNJ exclusive: Lee chooses Campbell for Tenn. Supreme Court

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is naming associate state solicitor general Sarah Campbell to the bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Campbell, 39, is an associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. She grew up in Rogersville before attending Duke law school and going on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. She later worked for the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington before joining the AG’s office in 2015.

Campbell has represented the state in appeals of federal rulings regarding Tennessee laws on abortion, absentee ballots, and lethal injections. Her references included Solicitor General Andrée Blumstein and state House Judiciary Chair Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

UPDATE: Lee’s office has made it official.

“Sarah is a highly accomplished attorney and brings valuable experience from the federal level, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lee said in a release. “Her commitment to an originalist interpretation of the state and federal constitutions will serve Tennesseans well. She is well-suited for the state’s highest court and I am proud to appoint her to this position.”

If confirmed with by the General Assembly (which is a largely forgone conclusion), Campbell will succeed Justice Connie Clark, who died in September. Campbell is Lee’s first appointment to the Supreme Court. Clark and Sharon Lee were appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, while his Republican successor Bill Haslam named Jeff Bivins, Holly Kirby, and Roger Page to the bench.

Here are some of Campbell’s answers to the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments before she was named as a finalist alongside state Court of Appeals judges Kristi Davis and Neal McBrayer.

Should legislative intent in the enactment of state laws factor into judicial rulings?
Campbell:
There are a lot of problems with legislative history. That’s not the law. . . . Particularly when legislative history is cherry-picked in a way to say this is what the sponsors were trying to do. It completely ignores that there were those other interests on the other side that were also being taking into account in that legislative process. All we can say for sure is what language is in the statute.

Who is your judicial role model?
Campbell: My judicial philosophy is very similar to Justice Samuel Alito and Judge William Pryor [of the 11th Circuit, both of whom she clerked for]. I am an originalist and textualist, I believe in judicial modesty and humility. . . to know what the judiciary’s role is vis-à-vis the other branches of government, and not to stray into roles other than what the constitution actually assigns the judiciary.

Does your youth affects your qualifications?
Campbell: Look at the quality and breadth of my experience so far in my career, rather than my age or just the number of years I have been practicing. If you look at the number of cases and sorts of cases I have handled, particularly in the attorney general’s office, where I have been responsible for making the strategic calls and supervising teams of attorneys in cases that are both legally challenging and of significant importance to the state and citizens. That sort of experience sets me apart compared with other lawyers who are my age.

What is the Federalist Society’s significance?
Campbell: One of the ways in which my views became a lot clearer and more nuanced is because at my law school there was a Federalist Society chapter that had great events. At a lot of law schools, particularly elite law schools, there isn’t much intellectual diversity.

How would you deal with negative media attention in high-profile cases?
Campbell: As an appellate judge, my review would be limited to the record that’s before me in that case. And any material outside of that record, whether it’s been media reports, social media, or whatever the case may be, that would be improper for an appellate judge to consider.

Yeah, but what’ll it cost? Lee administration releases draft plan on school funding formula overhaul

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has released a draft framework for overhauling the state’s complicated school funding formula. Most expect it to be an expensive proposition, though nobody is saying for the moment exactly how much it would cost.

Here’s the release from the state Education Department:

Nashville, TN-  After months of strong engagement and conversations about public education funding in Tennessee and years of consistent feedback, today the Tennessee Department of Education released an initial draft overview of a potential student-based funding formula, informed by input of thousands of Tennesseans– parents, educators, superintendents, elected officials, business and community leaders, and citizens from across the state– and is encouraging all Tennesseans to send feedback on this draft framework by an extended deadline of Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT. Comment should be sent to tnedu.funding@tn.gov.

“I want to personally thank the Tennessee parents, teachers, students and citizens who have engaged in this important discussion about our state’s education funding, and to encourage all Tennesseans who want to get involved to send their public comments on this latest draft,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “As we plan for the future of Tennessee, this process will continue to ensure we’re listening to the people of the state and improving how we invest resources to set our students up for success.” 

As part of a robust public review and engagement process, Tennesseans from around the state have submitted public comment that is being shared with 18 subcommittees to help inform potential recommendations for a new funding formula. Any proposed new funding formula would prioritize strategic investments in students, transparent reporting and accountability, and student-centered decisions.

“People know what they want for public school funding, and we are thrilled so many Tennesseans have participated in this process and see what this will mean for students,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We know this cannot just be about a funding formula in isolation, but about what funding can do to accelerate achievement for our students, ensure they have access to a high-quality education, and set them up for success after high school.”  

The draft framework for a new student-based funding formula would include funding for all services and supports for K-12 public schools that are currently funded in the existing formula. The draft framework, available here for public review and comment, also reflects the following feedback from stakeholders:

• Base: Educator salaries, RTI2 support, Counselors and school-based supports, District-specific needs, Technology, Nurses, Coordinated School Health 
• Weights: Poverty and Concentrated Poverty, Rural, Unique Learning Needs (special education English learner, gifted, dyslexia), and Charter Schools
• Direct Funding: Fast Growing Districts, Tutoring for 4th Grade, Career and Technical Education (CTE)
• Outcomes: Literacy, ReadyGrad Indicators with Outcomes, CTE Completers, WBL and Apprenticeships, JROTC, FAFSA Completion 

Tennesseans are encouraged to submit public comment on the components of this draft by the deadline for public comment, which is Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT.

In late December, Commissioner Schwinn gave an update to Gov. Bill Lee on the public school funding engagement process and discussed next steps moving forward. Watch the recording here. 

Hundreds of public comments have been submitted from citizens throughout Tennessee. Common themes include: 
“College & career experiences and culture beginning in K. Create a culture where post secondary ed is the norm, present college and technical education with equality, and expose students to what jobs exist, but also the possibilities of jobs to be created!” – Nicole Carney (@mrsncarney), Twitter Town Hall Participant 

“Right now, it’s my belief that we need more money into our career technical programs. That’ll be our need for a few years and it may change to something else down the road–but we need to have that flexibility as you design this program, to do what we need to do.” – Mark Farley, Gainesboro Town Hall Attendee 

“Students need earlier intervention for reading disabilities and intervention for all that struggle with disabilities. Currently, smart kids with reading disabilities do not receive help if they manage to stay above their schools RTI dividing line. These students deserve to reach their full potential. Targeted intervention should be available for all disabled readers. Reading intervention needs to happen early, Kindergarten. Schools need more and better trained reading interventionists, not unskilled teaching assistants.” – Alison Turner, Emailed Public Comment 

“Fund programming and additional professionals sufficient to meet the needs of low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and students that are performing below grade level.” – Jerry Park, Emailed Public Comment 

“In order to strengthen our students and to benefit them in the future, I feel there are several places additional funding should be given. School Counselors; in larger schools, counselors can either hold class or meet with students in need.” – Jennifer Taggart, Emailed Public Comment 

“I feel like we need to have ways to help our teachers such as better pay for our teachers so we can keep good teachers, better retirement. More principles to help with the kids, more nurses, smaller classes with more teachers, more counselors, pay increase yearly with cost of living going up every year. This is just a few of the many ways we can help our schools and community.” – Sue Anderson, Emailed Public Comment 

After Gov. Bill Lee announced in October that the state would review its public school funding formula, hundreds of Tennesseans indicated they would be interested in supporting the work of the 18 school funding subcommittees tasked with making recommendations to a steering committee of legislative leaders for a new student-based funding formula in Tennessee. The department hosted eight public town halls and local match meetings across the state, and created an additional engagement opportunity for Tennesseans to participate in the process and has developed a simple form for School Funding Ambassadors to use to collect public comments from community members. Additionally, members of the Tennessee General Assembly are hosting events across the state. Additional information can be found here. 

All subcommittee meeting recordings are available online. Subcommittees will finalize formula recommendations in the coming weeks, which will be provided to Governor Lee for consideration.  

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.  

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.”

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.

Read up on your state Supreme Court finalists here

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

After two days of interviews, the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointment whittled down the list of nine applicants to three for Gov. Bill Lee to choose from.

You can read the finalists’ applications here:

Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

Kristi M. Davis, state appeals judge.

Neal McBrayer, state appeals judge.

The vacancy was created by the passing of Justice Connie Clark in September.

Big shakeup in Supreme Court sweepstakes as Lee to hire Skrmetti as legal counsel

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

Just as the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments was getting ready to interview candidates for a state Supreme Court vacancy on Wednesday, The Tennessee Journal has learned a major contender is dropping out to instead become Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser.

Jonathan T. Skrmetti, the chief deputy to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will succeed Lang Wiseman, who stepped down on Friday.

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Skrmetti’s withdrawal from the Supreme Court application process leaves nine candidates for job. The Council for Judicial Appointments will narrow the field down to three for Lee to choose from.

UPDATE: The governor’s office has made it official:

“Jonathan is a dedicated public servant and highly qualified legal professional,” Lee said in a release. “He will bring significant experience and tremendous value to our work on behalf of Tennesseans, and I am confident he will continue to serve our state with integrity.”