History was made on a rainy Saturday here in Middle Tennessee over the weekend. While the clouds hung over our Capitol and rain fell from the sky, the mood inside War Memorial Auditorium was as bright as Tennessee’s present and hopefully, its future.
As my colleagues and I sat on a crowded stage to witness the inauguration of our 50th governor, I found myself marveling at the incredible legacy our outgoing governor was leaving behind. Under Bill Haslam, Tennessee became the envy of the entire nation. We achieved unprecedented job creation, historic low levels of unemployment, significant improvements in our education system, as well as the implementation of several groundbreaking initiatives — including the Tennessee Together Plan to begin addressing our opioid crisis.
While the Volunteer State is thriving, thanks to the foundation that has already been prepared, I believe it is our job to build it to even greater heights, and I know Governor Bill Lee and our General Assembly will accomplish this goal together. As Governor Lee spoke, he began laying the ground work for us to address the challenges ahead in partnership.
The governor reminded all in attendance that we still have 15 rural counties in poverty, an ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as a need for affordable health care. He also spoke about an issue that strongly resonates within me —violent crime that continues to plague our urban areas and numbers that indicate troubling trends for the future of our major metropolitan communities.
I agree with Governor Lee when he says, “We can be tough on crime and smart on it at the same time,” and we must. As he stated, 95 percent of the individuals who are currently incarcerated are coming out and returning to their communities. Additionally, the governor remarked that half of them will likely commit another crime and return to prison within the first three years of their release. To echo Governor Lee, we must do our part to ensure we “help non-violent criminals re-enter society and, not re-enter prison.”
As House Majority Leader, I am eager to partner with the Lee Administration and our General Assembly members so we can create solutions that lead to meaningful reform within our current justice system. Together, we will create a system of justice that meets present day standards, not those of 30 years ago. This will reduce recidivism rates, promote successful re-entry for those who strongly desire this outcome, hold violent offenders accountable for their actions, and accomplish our shared vision of creating safe neighborhoods in cities and towns across Tennessee.
I am excited about our state’s future under Governor Lee, and I ask that you continue to pray for him and all of us in the days and weeks ahead. May God bless Governor Lee, all of you, and our great state.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, as well as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. He lives in Cottontown and represents District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.