State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said there are several things he liked about Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address last week.

He believes Lee made a great presentation to inform the public of his agenda for 2021.

“I thought it was an excellent speech,” Bell said. “I think he laid out what his priorities were and the budget is going to address the needs that we have been wanting to address.”

One of the things on Lee’s agenda that stood out to Bell was the $200 million for broadband.

“On top of the announcement made (recently) by Comcast about the expansion in our area, that was due to a federal grant they had received ... now you have $200 million that the state is going to put in,” Bell stated. “We are going to make a huge dent in about 25% to 30% of Tennesseans that don’t have access to broadband, so that was a very important announcement.”

Another topic that caught Bell’s attention was the increase in teacher compensation.

“I think it was $120 million that is going to raises for our educators for everything they have had to deal with during the pandemic,” Bell noted. “The governor has set forth some money that will help compensate and increase compensation for teachers.”

He noted that many of the topics in Lee’s address this year were carried over from last year’s State of the State address.

“This address had a lot of the same elements in it that it did last year because we had to set aside so many initiatives because of the pandemic,” said Bell. “The focus on criminal justice reform, getting the constitutional carry permit passed, so some of them were some of the things that we had last year that we had to pick back up.”

Bell had a few items from last year that he is excited to see return as on of the governor’s initiatives this year.

“As a former volunteer firefighter, this initiative is huge because it has a fiscal note of around $5 million for training supplements to volunteer firefighters,” Bell expressed. “Under current law, all of our certified police officers and full time firefighters receive an $800 bonus for maintaining their training ... Volunteers make up 70% of the total number of firefighters in the state so this is by far the vast majority of firefighters. They have never received a training supplement from the state and, in the governor’s budget, is about $5 million for the first time ever to compensate volunteer firefighters for keeping their training current.”

Bell expects certain issues to become “hot and heavy” within the next few weeks.

“The governor made a statement that he supported the bill that said if you are a biological male you have to compete in male athletics and shouldn’t be allowed to compete with females and if you are a biological female you shouldn’t be competing with biological males,” Bell noted. “It is not my bill, it was a bill made by Sen. Joey Hensley, but it is a bill that I support.”

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