The 108th General Assembly adjourned April 17, 2014, to become a part of Tennessee history with the state budget and education highlighting this year’s action. Gov. Bill Haslam has been in the process of signing the bills recently and now that everything is finalized, I am going to send you the final updates, divided into key categories over the next few weeks. Today, I will highlight the public safety legislation. (All bills are effective July 1, 2014, unless otherwise noted.)
The 108th General Assembly approved a wide range of legislation attacking crime during the 2014 legislative session, including measures to fight drug abuse, crack down on sex offenders and human trafficking, provide justice for rape victims and help rid neighborhoods of gang violence. The Legislature also passed several new laws to help crime victims during the court process.
TAMP Act – Major legislation designed to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine was passed during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. Tennessee ranked second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year.
In 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab cleanup. The Department of Children’s Services has reported that 1,347 children came into state custody from 2010 through 2013 due to exposure to meth, not including the number of children where non-custodial arrangements were made. An estimated cost for care of these children is more than $7 million. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns, many of which involve children.
Currently, Tennessee uses the NPLEx technology to help block PSE from being used in the manufacture of meth. In order to obtain the drug, customers must show identification to ensure they are not purchasing over the allowed limit. The goal of this system was to allow allergy and cold sufferers to continue to receive needed medication without having to visit a physician in order to obtain a prescription, while setting limits to deter the manufacture of meth. The Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine (PSE) that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams.
PSE is the active ingredient in many safe and effective medicines that treat common cold and allergy symptoms – medicines such as Advil Cold & Sinus, Claritin-D and Sudafed. It also is the key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
The Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act targets so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy PSE products from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The new law sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams. It also requires a prescription for any person under 18 years of age to purchase a product that contains any immediate methamphetamine precursor, unless a pharmacist-generated prescription is issued. Senate Bill 1751
Meth/Penalties – Legislators also voted this year to strengthen penalties against those who manufacture methamphetamine. This measure provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days imprisonment for the manufacturing of meth. Senate Bill 2021
In addition, the Legislature passed a new law that adds anyone convicted of a drug felony to the Methamphetamine Registry to prevent them from purchasing pseudoephedrine, the precursor used for making meth. The legislation also extends the time from seven to 10 years during which offenders would be prohibited from purchasing any pseudoephedrine products if they are on the Drug Registry. Senate Bill 1312
Meth/Tracking – In order to better track meth arrests and convictions, the General Assembly approved legislation to subdivide methamphetamine from other Schedule II drugs in charging offenders with possession. The bill delineates meth from cocaine, crack and other Schedule II drugs so law enforcement can track it. Senate Bill 1596
Meth/Housing – Another bill passed this year requires a person who makes a profit from housing to report to law enforcement when they know methamphetamine has been manufactured there. The measure prescribes a Class B misdemeanor for property owners or caretakers that do not notify law enforcement within 24 hours of discovering methamphetamine has been or is being manufactured, in order to protect the public. Senate Bill 1503
Drugs/Controlled Substance Monitoring Database – The state Senate and House of Representatives approved a bill to require a dispenser of a controlled drug to add that prescription to the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database within one business day beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Currently, the reporting time is seven days. Veterinarians, who dispense very few controlled substances, will continue to have seven days to report. Senate Bill 2547
Drugs/Synthetic Drugs – The synthetic cannabinoids, quinolinylindolecarboxester and propylindazolecarboxamide, have been added to the state’s Schedule I controlled substances law under legislation adopted this year. The General Assembly has passed legislation to ban other chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compounds to avoid prosecution. The new law aims to keep these drug compounds, which produce a dangerous hallucinogenic effect, out of the hands of Tennesseans. Senate Bill 1508
Drugs/Pill Mills – State lawmakers have approved legislation designed to reduce the number of pill mills in Tennessee. The measure standardizes the reporting requirements for pill wholesalers when there is theft or a significant loss of controlled substances.The new law also prohibits certain health care providers that work in pain management clinics from dispensing opioids and benzodiazepines and requires health care practitioners to notify the board or pharmacy within 10 days of starting or ending work with those pain management clinics. Finally, it changes certain procedures and buy-back measures when dealing with these substances. The bill was modeled after successful legislation passed in Florida. Effective Date: Jan. 1, 2015. Senate Bill 1663
Drugs/Identification – Legislation was approved this year to require a person to present valid government-issued identification, or a public or private insurance card, prior to being dispensed a seven day or greater supply of any Schedule II-IV opioid, benzodiazephine, zolpidem, barbiturate or carisoprodol. The identification requirement is not applicable to persons known personally by the pharmacist or technician dispensing the medication. Other persons make pick up the prescription, but must show identification. If a person is homeless or a minor, the pharmacist must exercise professional judgment when presented the request for the drug. The legislation is another tool to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the illegal use of prescription pain pills. Senate Bill 1832
Drugs/Opiate-Related Emergencies – Legislation was adopted authorizing a licensed health care practitioner to prescribe the drug Naloxone to a person at risk of experiencing an opiate-related overdose. Opiate overdoses have soared nationwide. Naloxone is specifically used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system and has been highly successful in reversing heroin overdoses with very few side effects. The new law also allows the physician to prescribe the drug to a family member, friend or other person in a position to assist a person experiencing an opiate-related overdose, as long as the doctor provides written communication establishing a factual basis that a person is at risk. Finally, the bill provides a prescribing physician or person administering the drug immunity from civil liability. Senate Bill 1631
CRIME/SEX OFFENDERS AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING/THE COURTS
Rape/Statute of Limitations – Major legislation was passed this year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general have been notified within three years of the offense. The new law pertains to acts committed on or after the bill’s July 1, 2014, effective date and offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The current statutes of limitations range from eight years to 15 years for rape of an adult, and up to 25 years after the 18th birthday of the victim when the offense involves a child.
The legislation builds on a law passed last year that allows prosecutors to pursue a “John Doe” arrest based on the perpetrator’s DNA profile, saving rape cases from dismissal on grounds that too much time has passed. That new law ensures Tennessee law keeps pace with emerging DNA science so that prosecutions will be kept alive even when the perpetrator can’t be brought to justice within the time allowed by the statute of limitations.
Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests. Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt. Effective Date: April 29, 2014. Senate Bill 2084
Rape Kits/Justice for Victims – Another bill passed this year calling for justice for rape victims that requires all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The legislation follows a report that there were as many as 12,000 unprocessed rape kits in Shelby County. Similar reports of untested kits can be found in other U.S. localities.
The report must contain the number of untested kits and the date the evidence was collected. After receiving the information, the measure calls for the TBI to deliver a report by Sept. 1, 2014, to the speakers of the state Senate and House of Representatives regarding their findings. The report is the first fundamental step in helping quantify the scope of the problem so steps can be taken to help victims and survivors find justice. Effective Date:April 21, 2014. Senate Bill 1426
Rape/Victim’s Right to Privacy – Victims of rape will have the power to keep their identity private under another bill approved by lawmakers this year. I was pleased to be the main sponsor of this legislation. The measure provides that identifying information regarding the victim will be treated as confidential upon a guilty plea or conviction sentencing of the defendant. It would not be open for inspection by members of the public, unless the victim waives the right to confidentiality.
Victims of rape often report they are afraid to come forward due to unwanted publicity regarding the crime. New technological advances like Facebook or blogs have provided forums for posting pictures and videos almost anywhere and instantly with little possibility of retrieving the electronic transmission.
The new law requires the district attorney general to inform the victims of their right to privacy. Nothing in the legislation can be used to deny access to the public part of this file, as long as the personal information is redacted.
The legislation was crafted in collaboration with law enforcement, media and victim’s rights groups, including the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, Tennessee Press Association, Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Abuse, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference. Effective Date: April 25, 2014. Senate Bill 2254
Sex Offenders/Community Notification – Legislation was passed that aims to make it less appealing for those convicted of a sexual offense to move to Tennessee. The bill allows any county or city to establish a community notification system by a two-thirds vote of the local legislative body. This community notification system will notify certain residences, schools and child care facilities within that local government’s boundaries that a sexual offender resides or intends to live within a certain distance of such residences, schools and child care facilities. The bill follows similar laws in other states, including Alabama. Effective Date: April 21, 2014. Senate Bill 2398
Sex Offenders/Restrictions — Similarly, the Legislature voted to help ensure Tennessee is not a destination for sex offenders as a result of having weaker laws than other states regarding work and residential restrictions. Tennessee law already has such restrictions for child sex offenders. This legislation prohibits any sexual offender, whose victim was an adult, from knowingly establishing a residence or to accept employment within 1,000 feet of any public, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center or athletic field available for use by the general public. Senate Bill 2090
Sex Offender Registry – State lawmakers also passed a law that deals with observation without consent. Currently, voyeurism without consent is a Class A misdemeanor, no matter how many times it occurs. This legislation places those who are convicted of the crime three or more times on the state’s Sexual Offender Registry. Senate Bill 2242
Sex Offenses/Children/Reporting – Legislation to help ensure child sex abuse is reported has passed. The bill adds to the list of individuals who must report any known or suspected child sex abuse to any authority figure at a community facility, including any facility used for recreation or social assemblies or for educational, religious, social, health or welfare purposes. Senate Bill 1131
Students/Sex Offenders – The Legislature gave final approval to legislation to help protect students from sex offenders and other violent criminals while at school. Current law requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to perform background checks on vendors who do contract work with schools in Tennessee. This new law seeks to tighten a statute passed last year by adding more offenses and jurisdictions to these background checks, including statutory rape by a non-authority figure, aggravated kidnapping of an adult, child abuse, child neglect, aggravated robbery and voluntary manslaughter. It allows a broader time frame for certain crimes than was previously granted to ensure that sex offenders and violent criminals cannot slip through the cracks. Effective Date: April 29, 2014. Senate Bill 2356
Erin’s Law/Prevention of Child Sex Abuse – “Erin’s Law,” which focuses on preventing child sexual abuse, met final legislative approval this year. As passed, the legislation encourages schools across the state to provide age-appropriate instruction to students on personal body safety and how to report sexual abuse, including occurrences that could potentially happen in the home. The bill is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois native who was sexually abused as a child. Merryn now fully dedicates her time to getting the law passed in all 50 states.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2012 there were 3,508 child sexual abuse cases reported across the state. The U.S. Department of Justice, however, indicates child sexual abuse is underreported in about 60 percent of cases, meaning the actual number of abuse cases in Tennessee is most likely higher than reported. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator, with 34 percent of the offenders being family members. The bureau reports that 59 percent of offenders were acquainted with the victim and only 7 percent were strangers. Senate Bill 2421
Human Trafficking – Efforts continued in the General Assembly this year to address the problem of human trafficking and prostitution. The General Assembly passed a series of bills addressing human trafficking after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. Tennessee emerged as a national leader in the fight against human trafficking as a result of those efforts, receiving an “A” ranking from Shared Hope International’s 2013 state report card. Tennessee scored 93.5 percent, the highest of any other state rated in the Protected Innocence Challenge.
A follow-up to the 2011 report was released this year that shows sex trafficking of minors occurs in rural and urban areas of Tennessee and has an effect in both wealthy and poor households. It also was discovered that minors who come from impoverished households are especially vulnerable to victimization.
Following is a list of new laws passed during the 2014 legislative session that builds on the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to attack the problem:
Missing Children/ TBI – A new statute was passed requiring the TBI to add information on its missing children website when a child is found. The bill calls on TBI to update the missing children registry to include pertinent information about rescued children in the same manner as the report of a missing child. Senate Bill 1654
Promoting Prostitution/Child Abuse – Legislation was approved to add the offense of promoting prostitution to the list of offenses that constitute severe child abuse. Senate Bill 1660
Consent Defense – A new law was passed that prohibits asserting that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer as a defense to promoting prostitution. Senate Bill 1748
Penalties/Patronizing Child Prostitution – Lawmakers approved a bill that attacks the “demand side” of human trafficking. The legislation toughens penalties against those who patronize prostitution from a child or a person with intellectual disabilities and removes certain defenses that violators have attempted to use. The bill increases the penalty from a Class E to either a Class A or Class B felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. It also prohibits as a defense to patronizing prostitution the assertion that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer. Senate Bill 1815
Out of State Sex Offenders – A new law was passed that treats out-of-state sexual offenders the same way as in-state sexual offenders for the purpose of being placed on Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry. Effective Date: April 21, 2014. Senate Bill 2040
Child Prostitution/Sex Offender Registry – Finally, the General Assembly voted to ensure that those who are guilty of patronizing prostitution of a minor are placed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry. Senate Bill 2564
Crime/Gangs – The Community Safety Act, which aims to curb gang crime, was approved during the 2014 legislative session. The law clarifies that a petition for the abatement of gang-related conduct may be filed against a criminal gang itself to which the members belong. The court would have the authority to restrict gang activity in certain geographic locations, including public parks.
Gang-related offenses include crimes that Tennessee communities combat every day, such as robbery, carjacking and drug possession with intent to sell, among other more violent offenses. This year’s legislation builds on a law passed in 2013 that changed the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses to make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence. Other laws enacted since 2011 create tougher sentences for certain types of crimes committed by three or more acting in concert and tougher sentences for convicted felons who persist in illegally possessing guns.
The new law requires gang-related conduct to be proven beyond clear and convincing evidence, rather than preponderance. It includes an opt-out provision that allows a gang member to be dismissed from an injunction if he or she renounced membership. The measure also makes it a Class C misdemeanor for a gang member to knowingly violate any temporary or permanent injunction. Senate Bill 1634
Crime Victims/Court Process – The General Assembly gave final approval to two bills to help crime victims and their families from being further victimized by an unjust court process. The laws stem from the brutal murders of Knoxville residents Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, who were carjacked, brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Law enforcement authorities have said the murders were among the most heinous crimes in Tennessee history.
Christian and Newsom’s killers were tried in a court of law and found guilty by the jury of the brutal crimes five years later. However, due to the presiding judge being found guilty of illegally taking narcotics during the trial, a special judge ordered retrials for the defendants, putting the families through two additional years of painful courtroom testimony before they were convicted a second time. The presiding judge, who verbally accepted the verdict, had not signed a routine form accepting the jury’s decision before being removed from the bench. The successor judge decided he could not sign it, even though he found no errors in the trial.
The first bill creates a presumption applicable to a successor judge that the presiding judge, who serves as the 13th juror, is presumed to have completed his duties once the judge accepts the verdict of the jury.
The second measure puts new restrictions on bringing into evidence presumptions or false information that are related to the victim that is totally unrelated to the crime. This provision puts Tennessee law into agreement with the constitutional amendment passed by Tennesseans in 1998 that states crime victims should be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 1796 and Senate Bill 1797
Death Penalty – The Legislature voted to close a loophole in the state’s death penalty law. Current law allows the state to use execution to carry out a death sentence if a court should rule lethal injection is unconstitutional but does not address what happens if the chemicals used in the fatal dose are not available. The new law allows for the death sentence to be carried out through electrocution if the Commissioner of Correction certifies that one or more of the ingredients essential to the lethal injection dose cannot be obtained through no fault of the department.
Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the state. The legislation is designed to address delays that could occur in executions due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. That shortage could be compounded if the state does not prevail in keeping the anonymity of the department’s lethal injection drug supplier.
There are 75 males and one female on death row in Tennessee. Legislation was passed in 2000 specifying lethal injection for all inmates sentenced to death, except for death row inmates who committed their crime prior to Jan. 1, 1999, unless he or she requests electrocution. The last execution in Tennessee was in December 2009, when multi-murderer Cecil Johnson was put to death by lethal injection for three counts of first-degree murder. Johnson was convicted in 1981 for the triple killing at a convenience market and was given three death sentences by a jury. Seventeen death row inmates have been sentenced with multiple death sentences. Effective Date: July 1, 2014, and shall apply to any person who is sentenced to the punishment of death on or after such date. Senate Bill 2580
Crime/ Domestic Violence/Survivor Safety – Legislation, which I sponsored in the Senate, was passed to aid victims of domestic violence and ensure perpetrators serve 100 percent of their sentences day-for-day. The new law requires that repeat offenders must serve at least the mandatory minimum sentence in jail day-for-day and consecutively. It also prescribes that, if the offender receives less than the maximum sentence for the crime, he or she must spend the difference between the actual time served and the maximum allowable sentence on supervised probation.
Tennessee is currently ranked sixth in the nation for the number of women killed by men. Repeat convicted offenders are sometimes permitted to serve their time on weekends.
In 2012, the General Assembly passed minimum sentencing for repeat domestic assault. However, repeat convicted offenders do not necessarily serve their sentences day-for-day, which means a second-time offender may receive two-for-one credit and spend as little as 15 days behind bars for inflicting bodily injury on a partner or family member. Called the “Survivor Safety Bill,” this legislation goes a step further to require convicted batterers who inflicted bodily injury to serve longer consecutive day-for-day sentences. Senate Bill 1794
Crime/Domestic Violence/Order of Protection – Legislation providing more timely protection to victims of domestic violence when the perpetrator lives across county lines has been approved on final consideration. Current law requires notification for an order of protection to be mailed to law enforcement if it is in another county, so it can be served on the person perpetrating the domestic violence. The new law allows the order of protection to be faxed from one county to another, so it can be served as soon as possible, protecting the victim. Senate Bill 2091
Crime/Domestic/Aggravated Child Neglect – Legislation that raises the penalty for aggravated child neglect or endangerment was approved during the 2014 legislative session. The new statute puts aggravated child abuse into the category of crimes in which convicted offenders must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences in prison. Currently, those convicted of aggravated child neglect and endangerment are eligible for release after serving 55 percent of their sentence. The Legislature has moved several violent crimes to the 85 percent category over the past several years, which previously allowed offenders to serve as little as 35 percent of their sentences behind bars. Senate Bill 1695
Abuse of Elderly and Disabled – The Legislature passed legislation to help protect the elderly and adults with disabilities from abuse during the 2014 session. The new law increases punishment for adult abuse, exploitation or neglect from a Class E to a Class D felony. The move will help district attorneys prosecute the crime without having to meet the higher evidentiary standard required under the state’s adult abuse laws, reserved for more serious crimes.
The legislation also requires court clerks to notify the Department of Health when someone has been convicted of adult abuse so the offender can be added to the Adult Abuse Registry. All employers of adult caretakers must check the Registry before hiring an employee. In addition, the bill creates a Task Force comprised of a variety of departments and agencies that will meet over the next several months to develop initiatives to better protect vulnerable adults.
The Tennessee Commission on Aging has reported that assaults on the elderly have increased over the last three years of reporting from 1,360 in 2009 to 1,492 in 2011. In addition, underreporting of abuse may also occur due to incapacitation or abuse that may be mistaken for “usual aging.” Senate Bill 1852
Crime/Felony Arrests – State lawmakers voted this year to approve legislation that helps ensure innocent individuals are not arrested and jailed on felonies just because someone else has a grudge against them and uses the judicial system to carry out their feud in court. The law calls for a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit of complaint for a felony arrest before a warrant can be issued, unless the accusations include domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Under current law any private citizen can give a statement to an officer, take that statement to a judicial commissioner and swear out a warrant against another private citizen with a simple signature. The judicial commissioner is asked to make a probable cause determination based only on one side of the story. This situation results in too many innocent individuals being arrested and imprisoned until they can make bond and push through the judicial system.
The new statute still allows for a private individual to obtain a misdemeanor warrant on signature alone, but a presumption is created encouraging a citation or summons so people are not arrested and forced to make bond just because another private individual says they should be without any law enforcement investigation at all. Private individuals would still be able to obtain a felony or misdemeanor indictment through the Grand Jury process. Senate Bill 1434
Theft/Re-encoders – State senators voted to approve a new law making it a Class A misdemeanor offense to use a credit card skimming device, also known as a re-encoder, to steal an individual’s credit card number or data stored through the card’s magnetic stripe. Since 2001, 31 states and Puerto Rico have enacted statutes that provide criminal penalties for using the device to aid or abet theft. Senate Bill 1959
Copyrighted Works/Piracy – Legislation aiming to curb piracy of copyrighted movies and music produced by Tennessee artists has received final approval by the General Assembly. The bill deals with online retailers, many of which are based overseas, that sell audio and visual recordings fraudulently via the Internet. The law creates civil penalties for failure to clearly and conspicuously disclose correct names, physical address and a telephone number on a website or online service in a location readily accessible to online users. This gives the state the opportunity to get involved in enforcement activity and provides consumers with information regarding whether the business is a legal entity. It also addresses issues of non-compliance with other third party companies that may be supporting that website, which can be a powerful remedy in tackling the problem of piracy. Senate Bill 1936
Felons/Employment – State lawmakers approved legislation to help reformed former felons seek employment and lead lawful lives as productive members of society. The law will allow a person who has turned around his/her life to receive a certificate of employability. This certificate will give businesses who hire these reformed felons protection from negligent hiring lawsuits. The measure protects the public by requiring a judge to determine that an individual does not pose a risk to public safety before he or she can receive the certificate. Effective Date: January 1, 2015. Senate Bill 276
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