ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – During his visit at the Elizabethton Chamber’s legislative breakfast, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee talked about everything from COVID-19 to broadband expansion and upcoming initiatives.
“Work brings dignity. Work is good for families. Work is good for Tennesseans and we shouldn’t continue to pay people not to do it,” said Lee days after he announced the state would end federal unemployment benefits in July.
Lee says there are 250,000 open jobs across the state and businesses are struggling. Earlier this week he announced the state would end federally funded unemployment benefits.
“We have 160,000 people in our state that are on unemployment and our economy is back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “We need to get our businesses back to normal and move forward with that in order to do that we need to create pathways for people to go from unemployment to the vast amount of employment that’s available in our state.”
Although vaccine turn out has been lower than expected, Lee stands strong on his stance that they should not be mandated.
“Vaccination is a personal decision. Every person has to make that decision on their own. We don’t mandate vaccinations, we don’t believe vaccinations should be mandated but we do understand the absolute importance of it,” he said. “I got a vaccine. It’s important that people strongly consider doing so because it has obviously, as you see vaccines roll out across this country, it’s made all the difference in COVID-19.”
He also said he is working on a new campaign to encourage others to get the shot. While it’s widely available, he says it’s time public health orders and mask requirements should be over.
“By statute and by law in this state individual districts make those decisions by themselves but I see no reason particularly based on the science and COVID with regard to children to have masks in schools,” he said.
Another issue highlighted by the pandemic, the lack of broadband accessibility across the state, particularly in rural areas.
“What happens in rural Tennessee matters to every Tennesseean. It’s great to have prosperous economic activity in Nashville or some of our big cities but what’s really important that the rural economies move forward at the same time,” said Lee. “People need to be able to access healthcare to access remote education to be able to work from home or from remote locations and the only way we can do that is to have technology available in every county, in every far reaching area of Tennessee and we’re going to get that done.”
Lee also made the announcement that he will be back in the Tri-Cities on June 1 with the Oak Ridge Boys to kick off the Tennessee’s 225th year of statehood celebration in Jonesborough.