NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's time to get back to normal when it comes to spending taxpayer money.
That was the word Wednesday from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tennessee has operated under a state of emergency that allowed Lee's team to spend money on its COVID response with virtually no rules and no bidding to make sure taxpayers got the best product for the best price.
"We have made it clear that the departments that have been procuring -- and did procure through the no-bid process -- are to stop doing that going forward," Lee told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
NewsChannel 5 has dogged the Lee administration's no-bid spending -- some of it to companies with political connections -- since the governor first declared a state of emergency in March 2020.
Our investigation recently discovered that the Lee administration's no-bid COVID spending now totals almost a half a billion dollars.
Lee recently ordered that a limited state of emergency would still remain in place at least until the end of July.
"If we stop that state of emergency, we will quit receiving [an] additional benefit for families that get SNAP benefits," the governor explained.
"We have felt that the transition from the pandemic into the months ahead is important for those families, and we do not want to cut that funding off."
Completely ending the state of emergency also would have cut off some funding available to the Tennessee National Guard, Lee added.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates also wanted to know why Tennessee is doing so poorly when it comes to vaccinations.
Our neighbors to the north in Kentucky rank 28th with 43.4 percent of its population fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Tennessee is 45th with just 35.3 percent fully vaccinated.
We asked, "Why should that not be seen as a failure of your administration?"
"I think what's important to remember is that, from our perspective, vaccine rates are a reflection of a personal choice of a people in a population for whatever reason," Lee answered.
"I do believe that we, our administration's responsibility -- and what we believe to be a success from the administrative perspective -- is that we have access and that everyone can get one, that everyone has easy access and availability to those vaccines."
The governor went on to emphasize that the COVID-19 vaccines are, quote, "highly effective" and "valuable."
Still, the governor got his own vaccine in private, and his critics say he could have done more to try to convince the vaccine hesitant that this is something they, too, should do.