Senate Judiciary Committee votes to approve constitutional amendment resolution as first step to restore protections on abortion


From State Senator MAE BEAVERS

Senator Mae Beavers

NASHVILLE-The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2-1 this week to give Tennesseans the opportunity to restore their voice in determining what state law should be regarding commonsense protections for abortions.

The resolution, SJR 127, addresses a State Supreme Court decision in 2000 that struck down provisions in Tennessee law allowing women to receive “informed consent” information about the surgery and to wait 48 hours before they receive an abortion. The court also ruled against a state requirement that all abortions after the first trimester be performed in a hospital. That ruling made Tennessee more liberal than the U.S. Supreme Court required in Roe v. Wade and made the right to abortion a “fundamental right” in Tennessee.

“Once again, we hope to restore to the people of Tennessee their voice in deciding whether to implement some very reasonable and common sense approaches to issues involving life,” said Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers.  The resolution would allow citizens to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to say that the right to an abortion is only protected under the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  It would give the people the right, through their elected state representatives and state senators, to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape, incest or life of the mother.  The practical effect of the legislation would be to bring Tennessee back into a position of neutrality so the people’s elected representatives can decide within the bounds of federal decisions what protections can be put into place.

The Committee voted 6 to 3 to hold back attempts to put amendments on the resolution.   Constitutional experts maintain it is important that the language is clear to meet court scrutiny.  Those opposing the resolution have worked very hard in the past to muddy the waters for political reasons to change the focus of what this resolution is about.

The resolution will be voted on in the same manner as the “Victim’s Rights Amendment” in 1998, the “State Lottery Scholarship Amendment” of 2002, and the amendment giving tax relief to the elderly adopted in 2006.  If approved by the full House and Senate this year and by a two-thirds majority in the next General Assembly, citizens could expect to see the resolution on the ballot in November 2014.

Law Enforcement Officials Applaud “Crooks with Guns” Legislation

Tennessee’s new “Crooks with Guns” law is working well, according to Chief Ron Serpas of the Metro Davidson County Police Department and General Randy Nichols, District Attorney General for the 6th Judicial District.  Serpas and Nichols testified before the Judiciary Committee this week about recidivism and asked members to support the second step of the Public Safety Coalition’s proposal to impose harsher sentences on criminals using firearms in the commission of a robbery. 

Tennessee ranks second in the nation in the number of violent crimes.  These criminals are often repeat offenders.  Sixty-seven percent of those convicted of violent crimes are re-arrested within three years of being released from prison.  The recidivism rate increases to 80 percent when you move past that three-year marker.    

The legislation proposed this year would increase prison time for the most violent criminals convicted of aggravated robbery who use a gun in commission of the crime from a Class B to a Class A felony.   A Class B felony carries a sentence of 8 to 12 years; whereas, a Class A felony carries a 15- to 25-year sentence.  Nichols said, however, prisoners could serve a term as low as 30 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.  

Nichols and Serpas also urged lawmakers to adopt a more realistic formula for determining the cost of imposing tougher sentences on repeat offenders that takes into account the full financial impact that violent crime has on Tennesseans and the resources of state and local government.  Besides the cost of apprehending and prosecuting repeat violent offenders, each year Shelby County alone spends approximately $25 million in taxpayer money to treat gunshot wounds at The Med Regional Medical Center.

Senator Beavers also asked Chief Serpas and General Nichols to be in close contact with the Governor’s office, who will release its budget shortly.  “Governor Bredesen must make these types of issues a priority in his budget,” urged Beavers.  “I know of a couple pork-barrel projects that could have been cut to help fund some of these higher incarceration costs that would keep our streets safer.”  Chief Serpas and General Nichols conveyed that they have been in talks with the governor regarding these issues, but as General Nichols said, “we’re not overly persuasive.” 

Beavers Sole Vote Against Text Messaging Legislation

Legislation that would ban “texting while driving” passed through the Senate Transportation Committee this week. Senator Mae Beavers was the only senator to vote against the legislation, saying that government cannot “legislate against all forms of stupidity.”  Beavers also expressed concerns that text messaging was already covered under current distractive driving laws, and that such a bill would be a duplication of the law.

Beavers also stressed the difficulty in proving whether someone was sending a text message and not merely dialing a phone number.  Such legislation could lead to law enforcement officers being able to seize your phone and examine your messages in order to determine whether a violation occurred.  “This is a very slippery slope we are now treading,” urged Beavers.