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Response to Governor Lee's 2019 State of the State

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Presenting his 2019 State of the State Address

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee began his State of the State Address this evening with an assessment that our state is “hopeful, prosperous and strong.” We at the Tennessee Disability Coalition share our newly-elected Executive’s hope for the year ahead and belief that with collective effort we can take on our state’s tallest mountains, it’s greatest challenges.

Governor Lee outlined four tenets in his policy and budget plan for the coming fiscal year. His first that “Tennessee must deliver a world class education.” Lee’s plans to invest in our schools and teachers include funding for the Basic Education Program and recommending $71 million to fund a 2.5% pay raise for teachers. In addition to $34 million in new funding for higher education institutions, he also proposed a new initiative called “the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education – the GIVE Act” intended to increase the number of young adults earning an industry certification and entering a career within one year of high school graduation.

Notably, Governor Lee addressed that “students have different needs and abilities, and our education system should mirror that diversity as best as possible.” We appreciate the inclusiveness of this language. We must ensure that all Tennessee students, with and without disabilities, have the opportunity to learn in the environment that best meets their needs, from pre-K to post-secondary education, in order to acquire the tools and training that prepares them for fulfilling careers. 

Governor Lee spoke to the intersection of the education system and our criminal justice system tonight. This resonates with our work as the school to prison pipeline disproportionately impacts the disability community. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as students without disabilities. Students who are suspended are more likely to drop out of school. The Governor’s proposal includes an expansion of education and re-entry counseling opportunities in our prisons. Over the next three years, Tennessee will invest $10.5 million and partner with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to provide greater career training in eight state facilities.

As individuals with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime than those without disabilities, the Governor’s message that we must improve public safety in our state hit home. Funding proposals include $30 million in school safety and new investments in law enforcement. 

In his Address, the Governor also shone light on the intersection of the justice system and mental health care. We applaud this approach as more than half of all people in prison report that they have a mental health condition. Initiatives in the Governor’s reform package include supplementing mental health efforts and expanding the recovery court system and recovery court programming. An additional $1.7 million funding to the recovery court system will expand capacity by 20 percent and serve an additional 500 Tennesseans each year. 

Governor Lee defined his top three policy priorities by stating: “First, education. Second, justice. And third, every Tennessean should have access to high-quality health care they can afford.” We agree. Access to affordable, quality health care impacts every part of our lives, particularly for those of us with greater than average needs. Good health is fundamental to our ability to stay in school, keep a job and participate in civic life.

We applaud the Governor’s proposal to allocate an increase of $11 million in recurring funds to our Behavioral Health Safety Net and our Regional Mental Health Institutes. These investments will help serve thousands more of our most vulnerable Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have health insurance.

We also appreciate the $1.1 million included to expand the state’s partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network to establish a new regional outreach model and increase the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ efforts.

Governor Lee also announced an increase to funding for Early Intervention Services by $6 million dollars for the next fiscal year. High quality early intervention services can change a child's developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families and communities.

The fourth tenet of Governor Lee’s plan is fiscal responsibility in state government. Toward this goal, a new Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will seek to improve partnerships across the nonprofit sector.

The full text of Governor Lee’s State of the State Address is available online at: https://www.tn.gov/governor/about-bill-lee/state-of-the-state-2019-addre...

Following tonight’s Address presented live at the Capitol in Nashville, Governor Lee will travel to Knoxville and Memphis to present an address to each Grand Region over the course of this week.

Details for the State of East Tennessee address and the State of West Tennessee address are listed below. The events are free and open to the public with tickets available at https://www.tn.gov/governor/sots. Tickets are needed for entry.

State of East Tennessee: 6:00pm ET on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville Clarence Brown Theatre: 1714 Andy Holt Ave., Knoxville, TN 37996

State of West Tennessee: 5:30pm CT on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at the University of Memphis University Center Ballroom: 499 University St. Memphis, TN 38152

Many aspects of state government impact the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities. We will continue to analyze the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019-20 and the funding discussions of our Tennessee General Assembly as they work to pass a balanced budget in the next couple months.

Thank you,
~Public Policy Team