Lee announces next steps after study finds problems with lethal injection protocols

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is outlining his next steps after an independent study found his administration had failed to follow its lethal injection protocols.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Following a months-long third-party review of lethal injection operations at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), Tennessee Governor Bill Lee today announced several decisive actions to ensure the department adheres to established protocol. Additionally, the Governor proactively released the independent investigator’s third-party report to the public.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the findings in the independent investigator’s report and am directing several actions to ensure the Tennessee Department of Correction adheres to proper protocol,” said Gov. Lee. “We are proactively sharing both the third-party report and my administration’s next steps to ensure continued transparency for the people of Tennessee.”

On May 2, 2022, Tennessee retained former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review and recommend corrective actions, following an oversight in adhering to the TDOC lethal injection protocol. After completing the independent investigation, Stanton delivered the third-party report to the Governor’s office on December 14, 2022. All legally-required redactions were applied by the independent investigator prior to the report’s delivery. The third-party report is publicly-available here.

After an internal assessment of the third-party report, Gov. Lee has directed several proactive steps to ensure TDOC adheres to established protocol, which will occur in the following sequence:

1. Make staffing changes at the department’s leadership level.

2. Hire and onboard a permanent TDOC commissioner in January 2023.

3. New department leadership will revise the state’s lethal injection protocol, in consultation with the Governor’s office and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.

4. New department leadership will review all training associated with the revised protocol and make appropriate operational updates.

As previously planned, Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton will remain in the role until a permanent commissioner is announced in January 2023. At that time, Helton will continue serving the department as Assistant Commissioner for Community Supervision.

Gov. Lee added, “I commend Interim Commissioner Helton for her steady leadership, which has been particularly important during this time of change and transition at the department, and we are deeply grateful for her continued public service to our state.”

Upon launching the independent investigation in May, Lee issued temporary reprieves for five executions scheduled to take place in 2022. The Tennessee Supreme Court will be responsible for setting new execution dates after the Governor’s reprieves expire. Currently, Tennessee has no scheduled executions in 2023.

Study: Driver’s ed available in just two out of five Tennessee school districts

A new study by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office finds just 60 of the state’s 141 school districts offer driver’s ed courses to students.

Here’s the release:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has completed a review of driver education in Tennessee, including issues of availability and affordability, particularly for students in Title I high schools. The study was conducted at the request of the General Assembly.

While past studies vary in their conclusions about the effectiveness of driver education on the safety of teen drivers, more recent studies, including studies conducted in Nebraska and Oregon, have linked driver education to fewer traffic crashes. Teen drivers are involved in an average of 21 percent of Tennessee traffic crashes each year.

Driver education is offered in 60 Tennessee school districts, but its popularity has declined. According to an OREA survey of district superintendents, the overall number of districts offering driver education courses has decreased slightly over the past few school years. On a survey of Title I high school principals, 41 percent of principals indicated that driver education is offered at their schools. Those whose districts or schools do not offer driver education cited funding concerns, a lack of qualified teachers, decline in student interest, and the prioritizing of academics and graduation requirements as reasons they do not offer driver education. Most districts and Title I high schools that do offer driver education do not charge students for the course, mostly relying on state and local funding sources to cover the costs.

Tennessee state law allocates a percentage of revenue from litigation privilege taxes (imposed on all criminal and civil cases in the state) to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security for the purpose of promoting and expanding driver education and highway safety. TDOE distributes a portion of this revenue annually to districts that offer driver education based on their total number of students enrolled in the course. In fiscal year 2022, 60 districts received a portion of litigation privilege tax revenue to help fund driver education, a total of over $1.2 million. Other possible funding sources for public school driver education are explored in the report.

Additionally, OREA looked at private driver education companies, which are popular alternatives to public school programs. As of May 2022, there were 17 approved driver training and testing programs operating in 10 Tennessee counties. The average minimum fee for these programs (typically including 30 hours of classroom instructional time and six hours of behind-the-wheel training) is $462.67.

The Comptroller’s Office has included several policy options for the General Assembly and TDOE in its report. These include improving data collection to allow for more thorough studies of the effectiveness of driver education and increasing the percentage of litigation privilege taxes that is earmarked for driver education.

To read the report, please visit the Comptroller’s website at:


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