State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative Update

 

Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers

Final Report on the 106th General Assembly

(Part 2 of 3)

NASHVILLE-The General Assembly passed a number of significant bills before gaveling the 2009 session to a close a few weeks ago.  Highlighting this wrap are the numerous bills passed that addressed the issue of crime, burglary, domestic and child abuse, and immigration.

 

Crime / Victims / Burglary / Domestic Violence

Victims of Crime / Notification – Legislation to provide funding for a program that gives victims of crime notification regarding any change in status of the offender has become law as a result of action taken during the 2009 legislative session.   The bill, SB 1684, creates the Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification System Fund by adding a $1 litigation tax on all criminal charges.  The purpose of this statewide automated victims program is to increase the safety of victims of crime by providing access to timely and reliable information about the custody status of offenders in county jails.  This system is operable 24 hours a day over the telephone, through the Internet, or by email.  Victims of a crime or other concerned citizens can register to be notified immediately in the event of an offender’s release, transfer or escape through the program.  

Escape from police custody – Legislation that strengthens penalties against those who escape arrest has become law as a result of legislative action this session.  The bill, SB 388, provides that a person commits the offense of escape if they knowingly flee the lawful custody of a law enforcement officer. A violation of this bill would be a Class A misdemeanor regardless of whether the person was being held for a misdemeanor, civil offense, or felony.  

Strengthening Crooks with Guns law – The final day of the legislative session included approval of major legislation cracking down on violent crime in Tennessee that builds on the “Crooks with Guns Law” passed during the last General Assembly.  The bill, SB 672, adds attempted first degree murder to the Crooks with Guns Law. 

Tennessee ranks second in the nation in the number of violent crimes.  The legislation would work to keep those offenders off the street where they are no longer a danger to the public.  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 bill adds a minimum of three years to the sentence of a violator who possesses a firearm during the commission of attempted first-degree murder, to be served after the underlying offense.  If a violator possesses a firearm during the commission of the attempted first-degree murder and has a prior felony conviction, then a mandatory minimum of five years would be added to the sentence. 

In addition, if a violator possesses a firearm during the commission or an attempt to commit a dangerous felony or attempting to escape, then a mandatory minimum of six years is added to the sentence to be served after the underlying offense.  A prior felony conviction from this would add 10 years onto the sentence. 

Domestic Violence – The State Senate approved a bill dealing with domestic violence. The legislation, SB 314, sets forth a process for surrender of a firearm in cases where an order of protection has been granted in domestic violence cases.   The legislation aims to prevent an act of violence by setting up a procedure for the person to hand the gun over to a third party.   The possession of a firearm while under an order of protection is an offense under federal law. 

Children / Crime

Child Abuse and Neglect – The Tennessee General Assembly has made improvements to the state’s child abuse laws over the last several years.  Legislation approved this year continues those efforts by giving prosecutors the tools they need successfully to prosecute this horrible crime and end what too often becomes a cycle of violence. 

Nationwide, four children die everyday from child abuse, a reality which prompted the legislature to declare April as Child Abuse Prevention month.  In Tennessee, the state’s Department of Children’s Services responds to 37,000 reports of child abuse or neglect annually. This is one of the reasons that Tennessee ranked 42nd out of 50 states last year for overall well-being for children. 

Serious bodily injury – Legislation, SB 866, was approved in 2009 that adds specificity to what constitutes serious bodily injury in children, including second or third degree burns, a fracture of any bone, a concussion, subdural or subarachnoid bleeding, retinal hemorrhage, cerebral edema, brain contusion, injuries to the skin that involve severe bruising or the likelihood of permanent or protracted disfigurement sustained by whipping children with objects. 

Sex Offenders / areas frequented by children – Legislation prohibiting sex offenders from being or remaining within 1,000 feet of certain places where children are likely to gather has passed.  The new law, which aims to strengthen Tennessee’s laws to protect Tennessee children from sex offenders, applies to schools, licensed day care centers, child care facilities, public parks, playgrounds, recreation centers or athletic fields when children under age 18 are present.  

Current law sets a parameter of 500 feet as the distance sex offenders are prohibited from going near school property.  This legislation, SB 511, expands that distance to 1,000 feet, and adds other places where children are likely to gather.  

The bill also removes an exception that previously allowed sex offenders to be present on school property during school hours if they are making deliveries. 

Missing Children / Prompt Action – The General Assembly has approved legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to enter information into the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database within two hours of receipt of a report of a missing child.  The bill brings Tennessee into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act which was signed into law in 2006. 

The Adam Walsh Act is the sweeping federal law named after the murdered 6-year-old son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh that required states to adopt strict new standards for registering sex offenders and providing public information about their crimes and whereabouts. This included publishing photos and addresses of sex offenders online and toughening criminal penalties for those who fail to register, among other provisions.  Tennessee made several changes to comply with the law last year.  The states must comply with provisions of the act by 2009 or risk facing a 10 percent cut to their share of funds in a congressional grant program used to fight crime.

The legislation, SB 110, makes sure that Tennessee is acting quickly to enter the needed information to alert law enforcement of a missing child.  It is hoped that this measure will help bring these children home quicker.

 

Immigration

Immigration bills – Several bills addressing illegal immigration were approved on the Senate floor and in committees this year.  Senate Republicans have a series of bills to continue the fight for common-sense illegal immigration reform in Tennessee.  This year’s efforts build on action taken by the 105th General Assembly, which included the Memorandum of Understanding law to help state and local police deport illegal aliens, a separate measure ensuring employers receive proper identification before hiring, and a new law cracking down on those who transport illegal aliens into the state. 

Sanctuary Cities – The General Assembly approved a bill, SB 1310, aimed at preventing any city in Tennessee from becoming a “sanctuary city” for illegal aliens.  “Sanctuary city” is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices to protect illegal aliens. Thirty-eight cities in the U.S. have been recognized as sanctuary cities, but many sources have identified over 200 city or county governments nationwide as having practiced such policies.

Fake IDs – Lawmakers also approved a measure, SB 294, that would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to knowingly provide, transfer or submit a fake identification for the purpose of obtaining or maintaining employment.  The new law makes production or use of each false identification document a separate offense under Tennessee law if it is determined that any person in connection with the violation is not legally present in the United States and require the court to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.