State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and State Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) both agreed with the priorities set by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee during his State of the State address last week.
“I thought it was a great speech,” said Bell. “This was the 14th state address I have heard and now the second one by Gov. Lee and it is always a special occasion to hear the leader of the state lay out his priorities for the coming session.”
According to Bell, the legislators will go through the governor’s focal points “with a fine tooth comb” to see if any of his priorities match up with theirs.
The governor spoke about several topics that caught Bell’s attention during his speech.
“First we are going to contribute an additional $117 million in teachers salaries,” said Bell. “That equals about a 4% increase in the state’s contribution.”
Lee also discussed a plan to raise starting pay for teachers from $36,000 to $40,000 over two years.
Another point of interest for Bell was the further reduction of a tax.
“Last year we eliminated the professional privilege tax on 15 professions,” said Bell. “There are 7 professions left that still pay it and, while the governor didn’t propose that we eliminate, he did propose that we reduce it by half.”
Providing funds to cities and counties was also in the governor’s list of priorities.
“Another thing that the governor outlined last night was returning $100 million to cities and counties,” said Bell. “As I understand it this is specifically for infrastructure needs in those cities and counties.”
Bell also stated the governor proposed putting in an additional $25 million in rural broadband grants.
Harsher penalties for theft of firearms was another topic that caught Bell’s attention.
“We have a big problem with people stealing firearms, especially from vehicles of all things,” said Bell.
The final priority listed by the governor that caught Bell’s attention was the pro-life legislation that will prohibit abortion where a fetal heartbeat has been detected.
Though Bell didn’t have any problems with any of the focal points presented by the governor during his speech, he is concerned about the amount of money that would be spent due to the proposals.
“Our state of government right now is flush with money,” said Bell. “Good times don’t last forever and recession comes and goes. I want to make sure that we do not over extend ourselves in a good time so that when a bad time does come we don’t have to make drastic cuts.”
Cochran also enjoyed the governor’s presentation last week.
“I thought it was well presented and definitely interesting to see a little more in depth what his priorities for the session are going to be,” said Cochran. “He spoke a lot about the increase in funding for education and I think that is a good thing.”
Cochran would like to see the education system be helped in other ways, as well.
“I believe that one of the challenges facing our education system is really just having more freedom for our local teachers and administrators,” said Cochran. “I want to make sure that we are also passing bills that are giving our locals more freedom to teach the way they know how to teach and that we are not just decreeing things from Nashville.”
Another point of interest for Cochran was Lee’s idea for criminal justice reform.
“That has been his big push, trying to get criminals back into society,” said Cochran. “I thought it was important that he mentioned if someone commits a crime they should pay their time and pay their debt to society, but we have to make sure that we reintroduce an effective citizen back into society.”
Cochran also had some concerns that came from the governor’s proposals.
“One thing that I do have concerns about is the 12 weeks of paid family leave for state employees,” said Cochran. “It’s not that it’s a bad thing, but what I have concerns about is most Tennesseans don’t have that right so I kind of have an issue asking them to pay for state employees … I feel that we are asking taxpayers to pay for something that they don’t get themselves.”
He stated that the legislators would have to be attentive with their work on the priorities to create bills that would not create accidental results.
“I think he covered some great concepts so now we just have to make sure that when the legislation is actually drafted and goes to committee that it is written effectively and that it helps people with no unintended consequences,” said Cochran. “I think we just have to be very thoughtful and very careful to make sure that we accomplish these priorities in a responsible manner.”