NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Republican governor has sought to capitalize on rising law enforcement tensions with city leaders surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates, offering to help pay unvaccinated out-of-state officers to relocate and join the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
“Our force is one of the most professional in the country, and we won’t get between you and your doctor,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a recently released promotional video. “We believe you’d be a great fit for our state and we'll even help cover your moving expenses.”
The offer makes Lee just the latest Republican leader to capitalize on vaccine mandate tensions. He didn't immediately mention how much the state would reimburse officers or how it would be done.
“The reimbursement rate for relocation expenses will depend on the number of qualified candidates who commit to moving," complete training and join the state police force, Lee's spokesperson Casey Black said in an email.
Elsewhere, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced plans to give $5,000 bonuses to unvaccinated officers who relocated to his state and joined the police force — an offer to be formalized during a legislative session in January.
“As so many cities and states choose to disrespect, degrade and defund the honorable work of law enforcement, we want Florida to continue valuing our men and women of law enforcement today, tomorrow and for generations to come,” DeSantis said in a statement in August.
Both DeSantis and Lee have criticized vaccine mandates touted by Democratic President Joe Biden's administration. They've also backed various bills in their GOP-controlled Legislaturesto combat virus rules.
The focus on law enforcement amid the COVID-19 pandemic comes when the nation’s first responders are both dying in larger numbers from the disease while also pushing back against mandates.
While there are no national statistics the breakdown the vaccination rate for the country’s first responder population, police officers, firefighters and others are largely considered among the more hesitant to get the vaccine.
Some 280 law enforcement members have died of COVID-19 in 2021 and at last count 13 of them with Tennessee ties, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Earlier this month, Lee hinted he was eager to boost the numbers of the state’s troopers during a budget hearing with Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Matt Perry. At the time, Perry said there were currently more than 930 troopers though he was roughly seeking a goal of 1,300.
“I would say, you should be challenged that what you have is an administration that would like to have 1,300 troopers on the road right now,” Lee told Perry. “So you should think about what’s keeping you from doing that and aggressively go after that.”