Tennessee Offers to Pay Unvaccinated Cops to Move Into State, Join Highway Patrol

Becoming the latest Republican official to weigh in on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee made an offer to police officers in other states in a video released Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Amid intensifying debate over city and state vaccine mandates for government employees like police officers, Lee offered a to-be-determined amount of money to officers in other states who don't want to comply with their local vaccination mandates to come 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," Lee said in the video. "We believe you'd be a great fit for our state and we'll even help cover your moving expenses."

The announcement from Lee comes days after he signed into law a set of measures that limit the authority businesses and schools have to require things like proof of vaccination for visitors that will likely be challenged in court.

Lee mentions New York City and Los Angeles in the video, two places with mandates in place or set to be put in place requiring law enforcement officers to be vaccinated. New York City's mandate went into effect November 1, with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea saying that out of 35,000 department employees, only 34 were placed on leave due to not being vaccinated.

Lee and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have both been critics of President Joe Biden and other Democrats' policies on vaccine mandates. DeSantis has announced plans to give $5,000 bonuses to officers refusing to comply with vaccination mandates that want to relocate and join Florida's police force, a plan set to be formalized during a legislative session in January 2022.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Bill Lee, Vaccine Mandate, Tennessee
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced an offer to pay relocation fees of unvaccinated police officers who move to join Tennessee's Highway Patrol in a video Wednesday. Above, Smith and Wesson President and CEO Mark Smith, left, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee prepare for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Tennessee location for the firearms manufacturer, November 5 in Alcoa, Tennessee. Scott Keller/The Daily Times via Associated Press

The offer makes Lee 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.

"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 legislatures to 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 that break down 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 Colonel 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."

Bill Lee, Vaccine Mandate, Tennessee
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced in a video Wednesday an offer to pay unvaccinated police officers to move to the state and join Tennessee's Highway Patrol. Above, Lee views flood damage from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flown by the Tennessee National Guard on his way to visit people who suffered through catastrophic floods August 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tennessee. Alan Poizner/Getty Images