By Andy Sher
Chattanooga Times Free Press
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NASHVILLE — With early voting beginning next week in the Nov. 8 general election, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday touted his $100 million ” Violent Crime Intervention Fund” included in this year’s budget.
The Republican governor invited local law enforcement agencies to apply for the grants which are to be used to strengthen public safety in communities across the state.
“As Americans face rising crime nationwide, Tennessee is equipping law enforcement with the tools needed to keep every community safe,” Lee stated in a news release. “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented support. I invite all police departments and sheriff’s offices to engage this opportunity so the state can thoughtfully invest these dollars in proven methods that will curb violent crime and strengthen public safety.”
The governor added: “Every Tennessean deserves to feel safe in their community, and our local law enforcement agencies deserve access to the resources needed to deliver that quality of life.”
Lee’s announcement comes as the governor seeks a second four-year term. His Democratic opponent is Dr. Jason Martin, who has criticized Lee on multiple fronts in areas ranging from public education to health care. But Martin has struggled with fundraising while Lee has a healthy campaign war chest.
Eligible uses of Lee’s funding for combating violent crime at the local level include evidence-based crime intervention models, hiring and training of specialized violent crime units, purchase and application of technology and equipment and law enforcement-led partnerships with community organizations to disrupt and prevent violent crime.
Local law enforcement agencies can apply for grant funding through January 2023. Grants are being awarded in a “hybrid model,” with every local law enforcement agency guaranteed a minimum grant via a formula, with additional access to a pool of supplemental funds available to agencies that enter into collaborations or regional partnerships.
Lee’s original ask for the Republican-dominated General Assembly was $150 million for the program.
But the governor’s proposal became a high-stakes hostage in the state’s $52 billion budget negotiations this spring with lawmakers as top GOP legislative leaders, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, were pushing their own crackdown on violent crime.
That came after the governor a year earlier had celebrated the passage of his community-based alternatives to incarceration for low-level or nonviolent felons that also provides help to inmates with education and life skills.
The speakers pushed a “Truth in Sentencing” bill that provides stiffer minimum sentences and no-parole policies for violent offenders in cases including murder, rape and armed robbery. Lee opposed the measure, but GOP leaders pressed the delete button on Lee’s proposed $150 million on his own justice initiative.
It was eventually resolved. Lee wound up with $100 million for his initiative, but his refusal to sign the Truth in Sentencing bill drew strong criticism from Sexton.
Lee on Tuesday also pointed to these additional beefed-up law enforcement provisions in the 2022-2023 annual spending plan which took effect July 1:
— 100 additional Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers funded by the state
— $30 million to support recruitment and retention bonuses for newly hired police officers
— $24 million in state funding to support local law enforcement access to basic training and onboarding costs
— Increased the frequency of training for new recruits and transfers from out-of-state to get law enforcement officers on the job faster
— Creation of a statewide network of Correctional Officer training programs in partnership with TCATs and Community Colleges
— Over $4 million in professional development programs for local correctional officers
— Over $25 million in Evidence-Based Programming grants for local jails to start and operate proven crime and recidivism reduction programs for inmates.
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