MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee spent Tuesday morning encouraging Shelby County employers to give ex-offenders a second chance and then signed a bill to eliminate state expungement fees.
It's just the latest in Lee's efforts to push for criminal justice reform in Tennessee. He's made it one of his top priorities as governor.
"I think there's a real understanding that being smart on crime and tough on crime at the same time is something that we need to do in Tennessee," said Lee.
Lee started his day speaking to employers at a forum hosted by the University of Memphis.
The forum provided local employers a chance to learn about the increasing opportunities that ex-offenders who’ve received job training and education can provide to them.
Employers also learned how they could tap into this resource.
"This is about those that are coming out, being smart with how it is we make them successful in their re-entry, so they don't recommit a crime and have another victim and another taxpayer expense,” Lee said.
When Stevie Moore walked out of jail decades ago, he discovered he was still shackled.
“I got out of jail in '81, so I've been fighting a long time,” said Moore.
Moore’s criminal record made it difficult to find a job.
He wants to spare others from that experience.
“We got so many of our young men who mess up at a young age and have to pay for it the rest of their life, and that shouldn't be,” said Moore.
After speaking to employers, Lee traveled to the Lifeline to Success headquarters in Frayser, where he signed a bill to eliminate state expungement fees for people to clear their criminal records.
DeAndre Brown, the executive director of Lifeline to Success and a former prisoner, called the elimination of state expungement fees a hard-fought effort.
“This work is very intense. There are many days when you feel it's not worth it, but today proves to us that if we keep at it then things do change,” said Brown.
The state expungement fees will officially be eliminated on July 1st, when the law takes effect.
After the bill signing, Lee made a stop at a “Y on the Fly” event at the Neighborhood Christian Center in Frayser.
The new program by the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South features vans with books, games, lunches, and STEM activities that are driven to parts of the city without a physical YMCA location.
“The idea of this is to bring a YMCA without walls to come alongside our school districts and alongside our partners,” Brian McLaughlin said.
SCS officials were also on hand. Superintendent Joris Ray emphasized that the Y on the Fly program will be key to keeping kids reading during the summer.
“We want every child reading at grade level by the time they’re in third grade,” Ray said.
The district is currently on a campaign to increase literacy as a little more than a quarter of third graders read at a third grade level.
Lee was very involved with the YMCA of Middle Tennessee where he chaired the organization for two years.