Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s newly signed executive orders show that he will largely follow his Republican predecessor’s footsteps when it comes to ethics disclosure, transparency and non-discrimination employment practices.
Lee announced Thursday that the executive orders both underscore the state’s current approach to all three issues, but also expand state policies as well.
“Earlier this week, I signed my first executive order to address issues facing our rural communities, and the three orders I signed today reflect firm expectations for how state government conducts business,” Lee said in a statement. “I believe in limited and accountable government, which is why I have emphasized my administration’s approach to ethics, transparency and non-discrimination in hiring.”
On ethics, Lee kept former Gov. Bill Haslam’s position to keep how much the governor and other top aides make in outside income private. Such disclosure was once required under Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Yet Lee changed Haslam’s policy on gifts by adding “beverage” and “refreshment” on the list of banned gifts that can be accepted by a state employee from people hoping to conduct business with the state agency where the employee also works.
Lee then expanded the scope of employees required to file ethical disclosures to include senior members and all employees who regularly interact with the General Assembly.
Lee recently gave up control of his large heating, cooling, plumbing and electric business by placing his company holdings in a blind trust. However, like Haslam, Lee has previously declined to disclose details about his federal tax returns after citing concerns it could negatively impact Lee Co.
But unlike the former governor, Lee plans on accepting a state salary while in office for the next four years.
Haslam’s salary was set around $190,000 annually during his last year in office, according to Transparent Tennessee. The website had not yet updated to reflect Lee’s salary.
Lee’s policy is also differing from Haslam by requiring state human resources and labor officials to train executive branch managers on nondiscrimination employment practices within 120 days and with “reasonable frequency” after that.
The Haslam policy prohibits discrimination in government hiring practices on the basis of race, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation or disabilities. Under Lee, it will now add to that list creed, pregnancy, veteran’s status and sex — previously the list had mentioned gender but that has now been removed — as well as any other “category protected and/or federal civil rights laws.”
Lee is requiring the same timetable on openness and transparency training.
“This administration recognizes, understands, and appreciates the right of its citizens to be informed, to have access to government and to government records, and to have the proper checks and balances in place to assure government’s accountability to its citizens,” the executive order reads.