KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee delivered his third State of the State address Monday.

He talked about everything from the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, to teacher pay, and rural area funding.

East Tennessee lawmakers have mixed reviews on Governor Lee’s State of the State.

Republican Sate Representative Jason Zachary, who represents District 14 said he was “very encouraged last night with the State of the State. Just taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, Tennessee was only one of seven states in the entire nation that has shown positive economic growth since April of 2020.”

Representative Gloria Johnson (D) didn’t feel as confident.

“We saw some bandages that aren’t bad things but its just not any big overreaching policy that’s really going to change the lives of that Tennessee family that’s really struggling during the pandemic,” Johnson said.

COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution were at the top of the agenda.

Lee said in his speech, “our vaccine distribution plan was recognized by the former CDC Director Redfield as the most medically sound and practical plan in the country.”

East Tennessee leaders are concerned that residents still aren’t seeing the plan in action.

“We have a distribution model in place that gets it in and gets it out quickly,” explained Rep. Zachary. “So that the good news. The bad news, is it gets out quickly and if its already gone then you just have to get in line and wait on the next round.”

Representative Sam McKenzie (D) said, “the fact that we have not put teachers at the front or close to the front of the line, is really a disservice to the work that they’ve done.”

Schools reopening and teachers pay were topics discussed in Lee’s speech.

In Knoxville, Rep. Zachary said they’re making sure the money allotted to teachers goes to the correct people,

“We made it really clear that our intent with that money that we appropriate for teachers’ raises, we ask that it not be distributed among all employees. It is for the teacher raises,” he said.

However, Rep. Johnson isn’t convinced this will happen across the state.

“We still have a lot to do in public education and I feel like bragging about this multiple billions of dollars in surplus and not addressing the dire needs of funding in our education system is not putting our children first,” she said.

WATE 6 On your Side also reached out to Legislative Chairman Stephen Crump.

In a statement he said:

Currently, we are reviewing and discussing Governor Lee’s criminal justice reform proposals with his office. We appreciate Governor Lee inviting us to share our concerns and ideas on this important topic. While we have significant concerns about certain portions of the legislation, we are hopeful that a thorough discussion of those concerns will lead to better bills.

The Governor’s office is actively engaging with us as we seek to help them craft legislation that promotes public safety and elevates the criminal justice system’s responsiveness to victims of crime.

Reform can’t simply mean release. It must be centered on the safety of every Tennessean and the needs of those who continue to suffer even after a defendant has finished their sentence. The sentence of a victim never ends.

Public safety can never just be about saving money. It should be efficient, to be sure. However, it must first and always be about saving lives, families, schools and businesses. Public safety is the first responsibility of government.

We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Lee and his staff on this issue as we seek to make Tennessee safer and stronger.

Stephen D. Crump
Legislative Chairman, TNDAGC
District Attorney General
Tenth Judicial District

Lee has also mentioned how much money has been placed in the rainy day fund.

However, some wonder why that money isn’t being used for health care purposes,

“We bragged about having the largest rainy day fund ever and we’re in the midst of a world wide pandemic,” said Rep. McKenzie. “We should be ashamed.”

Rep. Zachary explained that, “the government plays a vitally important roll in making sure the environment is such that all Tennesseans can have access to heath care. So there’s also a balance too in terms of the rainy day fund.”

Zachary went on to say that Republicans have been trying to rebuild the rainy day fund since coming back into office in 2010.

You can watch Governor Bill Lee’s full State of the State below: