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Written by Curtis Johnson
Nashville, TN – The first session of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on May 10th, 2017, after passing major legislation that will benefit Tennesseans for generations to come. This is Part 8 of a 12 Part report.
This includes a measure making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college; a new law rebuilding a safe and reliable transportation network, while reallocating revenues to maximize taxpayers’ return on that investment; and a bill which provides a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation, and education.
Action in the General Assembly also included passage of a balanced budget which takes on no new debt, as well as legislation protecting the elderly, enhancing the state’s robust job growth, cracking down on crime, and boosting efforts as the fastest improving state in the nation in K-12 student achievement. Following is a report on key legislation passed this year.
Law Enforcement / Firefighters
Action was taken in the 2017-2018 state budget aiding law enforcement by including funding for 25 state troopers. In addition, the budget fully funds the salary survey for state troopers. It also includes new funding to increase coverage for families of police and firefighters who lose their life in the line of duty.
Enhanced Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement or Military
Legislation was passed this year increasing penalties against those convicted of intentionally selecting their victim because of his or her status as a uniformed law enforcement officer or member of the armed forces. The enhancement factor can be considered by the court at the time of sentencing.
The new law was inspired by the many brave men and women in uniform, who have lost their lives, were injured, or were targeted simply because of their jobs as protectors of the community. This legislation aims to send a clear message that the reprehensible behavior of these dangerous criminals will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Private Information / Targeting Law Enforcement Officers
Similarly, legislation passed this year adds penalties to the current law forbidding the release of private information regarding law enforcement officers to protect them and their families from being targeted. Presently, it is unlawful to release nonpublic information regarding police officers, such as a street address, city, state, and zip code, but there is no punishment attached to the crime.
The new law makes the offense a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine for the negligent unauthorized release of an officer’s residential address. If the release is intentional, the crime would be punishable as a Class A misdemeanor.
Legislation aiding the families of law enforcement officers who are killed in the line of duty has passed. This new statute calls for a $250,000 death benefit from the State of Tennessee for any firefighter, volunteer rescue worker, or law enforcement officer who is killed in the line of duty. The Helping Emergency Response Officials (HERO) Act significantly increases the current lump sum of $25,000 paid at the time of death to a $250,000 annuity with the first responder’s estate receiving annual installments of $50,000 per year until paid in full.
While the increased payment can never repay the family for their loss, it can help address immediate financial challenges when their loved one gives the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
First Responders Killed in the Line of Duty
Likewise, lawmakers voted to authorize the State Insurance Committee to offer or continue to provide health insurance benefits to the surviving spouse and children of a first responder killed in the line of duty. Under this new law, the first responder’s family and unborn child may receive health insurance benefits from the employing agency for up to two years.
Body Cams / Law Enforcement Officers
Legislation was given final approval which seeks to set the right balance between privacy and transparency in public access of body camera (cam) footage taken by law enforcement officers. Body cams are becoming more common, which has brought the need for clarity regarding public access to the footage.
The new law creates exceptions to the public records request law when the footage involves minors at an elementary, middle or high school; when the body cam was filmed inside a hospital or medical facility that provides health care or mental health care; or when it is obtained in a private residence that is not being investigated as a crime scene.
It further provides that nothing would prevent the information from being used in criminal proceedings by a District Attorney (DA), an Attorney General (AG), or defense counsel. It also ensures access to the footage by law enforcement courts or other governmental agencies.
Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab and Regional Headquarters
Legislation designating the new Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) crime lab in Jackson, Tennessee as the Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab and Regional Headquarters has passed. Frazier, who was shot and killed during an undercover drug operation conducted in Jackson, Tennessee, was the first TBI agent in history to be killed in the line of duty.
Highway Patrol Officers / K-9 Officers
Legislation allowing retirement health care benefits for Tennessee Highway Patrol K-9 officers has been signed into law. It provides $85.00 per month to a highway patrol officer for the medical care of a retired canine in their custody. The dogs perform a wide variety of essential services, from those who are trained to detect drugs and explosives, to tracking criminals or finding missing persons.
Many of these dogs have health conditions related to the hard work performed in the service of this state. It is often expensive to care for them as they age and these problems worsen. The new law requires the officer with custody of the canine to maintain and submit records of all medical treatment provided to the Tennessee Department of Safety.
Crimes / Against Children
The Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill to broaden the definition of child endangerment to protect children at great risk of harm. The new law includes actions by a parent who knowingly exposes or fails to protect a child from abuse or neglect, placing the child in imminent danger. Tennessee law defines imminent danger as “the existence of any condition or practice that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious bodily injury.”
Broadening this definition means that a child under the age of eight years old does not have to exhibit signs of physical injury to be considered endangered. An example would be a young child who is in a ‘drug house,’ and it is obvious that the child could pick up a pill, a syringe, or walk across glass.
This legislation gives law enforcement the tools to rescue them before greater harm occurs, even though the child does not display current physical injuries.
Child Rapist / Monitoring
State Senators and Representatives voted to approve legislation requiring any person who is considered a child rapist or a child sexual predator and who does not have either a primary or secondary residence to enroll in a satellite-based monitoring and supervision program. Under the new law, the offender must remain in the program for the full duration of their probation for the protection of children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children
Legislation expanding the definition of “material” in regard to the sexual exploitation of children passed this year to protect children from being victimized in computer-generated images. This new definition includes any computer image, or computer-generated image, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, to ensure Tennessee’s child pornography law covers the practice of morphing.
Morphing is the smooth transportation of one image into another by a computer. The practice has been used by pornographers to put a child’s face over an adult body in lewd sexual situations. Although federal law covers morphing, not everyone is charged federally. This legislation ensures state law bans such practices as well.
Crimes / Rape / Human Trafficking
Legislation was approved this year that builds on the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to attack the problem of human trafficking. The General Assembly has approved a series of bills over the past six years addressing the problem after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders.
A follow up to the 2011 report was released in 2014 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 was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households are especially vulnerable to victimization.
Among this year’s initiatives to address the problem is inclusion of $550,000 in the state budget for human trafficking grants to assist victims.
Human Trafficking / Commercial Sex Act
Among bills approved in 2017 is legislation which adds “trafficking for a commercial sex act” within the definition of “child sexual abuse” and “severe child abuse” under Tennessee law. Including child sex trafficking within this section of Tennessee law ensures that child welfare can intervene and provide services in cases that involve any form of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The legislation also changes the definition of “caregiver” in state law to allow victims to receive child welfare intervention.
The changes help ensure that child sex trafficking victims are properly identified and that child welfare does not face barriers in responding to these young victims. Bringing child sex trafficking within the definition of abuse facilitates a protective, coordinated, and consistent response to this form of sexual abuse.
Human Trafficking / Prostitution
Legislation which strengthens the penalty for patronizing prostitution was approved on final consideration. This new statute increases the crime from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. The sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is up to six months imprisonment, a fine up to $500, or both; whereas, the sentence for a Class A misdemeanor is up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine up to $2,000, or both. The bill is designed to attack the demand-driven problem of human trafficking in Tennessee.
Human Trafficking / Minor Victims
Legislation was approved this session which makes the identifying information of the minor victim of a criminal offense confidential and not open to inspection by members of the public, unless a court waives the confidentiality at the request of the minor’s parent.
Minors who have been victimized, such as child pornography or sex trafficking victims, should not have their identifiable information available to the public in a manner that could potentially be discovered and used to further victimize the minor in the media or social media. Social media victimization is an ever increasing problem and has been cited in a number of suicides in Tennessee and across the country. The newly-passed law provides a measure of protection for both children and families.
Crimes / Other / Court Process
Public safety headlined legislative action in the first session of the 110th General Assembly as lawmakers approved several major bills to reduce crime and provide for both juvenile and criminal justice reform.
Budget / Judiciary
The 2017-2018 budget provided several improvements to fight crime and provide for swifter justice. This includes 30 positions for district attorneys and 18 positions for public defenders. Funding increases were provided for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), including $8 million for an airplane to be used in manhunts and investigations.
The budget approved this year increases local jail reimbursement to $39 per day, provides $29.5 million for a new Multi-Agency Training Center, and allocates $500,000 related to operation of Tennessee’s Meth Task Force. This is in addition to funds appropriated to incarcerate felons with firearms, abusers of the elderly, and to enhance sentences against illegal aliens who commit unlawful acts.
Organized Retail Crime
Two key bills addressing the growing problem of organized retail crime in Tennessee were approved during the 2017 legislative session. The Organized Retail Crime Prevention Act defines organized retail crime and creates two new theft offenses for the purpose of prosecuting individuals who return stolen merchandise to receive money or store credit.
Tennessee is one of only 17 states that does not have Organized Retail Crime legislation. It is estimated that in 2015 the state lost over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lost over $200 million related to return fraud. This legislation begins to address this growing problem, including proper monitoring of the resale exchange market to isolate these crimes.
Retail theft also affects Tennessee’s growing drug abuse problem. Expert testimony revealed that there were 19 overdoses due to opioids during the last month in Knox County in which 16 had sold gift cards on the resale market for cash.
The new law allows local law enforcement to accurately track gift card purchases and their resale. The measures apply to cards that are resold when the buyer knows the card was obtained fraudulently. It also establishes a reporting requirement that allows authorities to collect the data needed to demonstrate the fiscal impact of the crime. After reviewing the data, the legislature may come back next year to stiffen the penalties. The legislation does not apply to prepaid value cards like the Visa/MC or AMEX cards that can be used at any merchant.
The second bill expands the offense of theft of property to address modern shoplifting devices. It modernizes and updates the theft code and helps law enforcement convict the more sophisticated criminal. It also adds that a person who commits a fifth of a subsequent conviction for theft of property involving merchandise over a two-year period will be punished one classification grade higher than the punishment for the underlying offense. Offenders will be subject to a minimum fine of $300 and a maximum fine established for the appropriate offense classification.
Crooks with Guns
Major legislation passed this year continues a series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” by enacting tougher sentences for violent felons in possession of firearms. The new law increases the offense to a Class B felony, almost doubling the average time spent in jail.
Likewise, it enhances penalties for possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony drug conviction. Passage of the measure follows recent reports that convicted felons illegally in possession of firearms have increased from 13 to 17 percent over the past three years.
Convicted Criminals / Unlawfully in the U.S.
Another key bill passed by the General Assembly in 2017 allows courts in Tennessee to enhance the sentence of a convicted criminal who is unlawfully in the U.S. This statute creates a new enhancement factor that a judge can consider in sentencing if the defendant was illegally or unlawfully in the U.S. at the time the offense was committed.
Crime / Terrorism / Reporting
Legislation was approved this year which confers civil and criminal immunity to a person who in good faith makes a report to law enforcement or another appropriate authority of the behavior or activity of another person, if the report is made with the articulable belief that the behavior or activity constitutes or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism.
Crime / Terrorism / Nuclear Facilities
A new law which clarifies that deadly force may be used by nuclear security officers at both nuclear power reactor facilities and category I nuclear facilities has passed. The legislation adds the definition and appropriate references to ensure it is covered under the self-defense statute.
Protestors Blocking First Responders During Emergency
Recent accounts of emergency vehicles being delayed due to protesters blocking roadways was the impetus behind legislation to ensure that access to emergency aid is always available for citizens. A new law passed this year increases the fine for blocking emergency vehicles from $50.00 to $200.00 and is accompanied by a Class B misdemeanor for any person who obstructs first responder vehicles, including police, fire, and ambulances, from reaching a destination in the event of an emergency.
Judicial Diversion / Public Employees
State lawmakers approved legislation which excludes employees of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the state or any political subdivision of the state from being eligible for pretrial diversion for any misdemeanor committed in the employee’s official capacity. The legislation seeks to hold public employees accountable for their actions while on the job as a matter of public trust.
Help Find the Missing Act
A new law was passed that streamlines the procedure for how local law enforcement, the TBI, and the medical examiner’s office communicate with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
First Degree Murder / Insanity Plea
Legislation was approved requiring that a trial court order an individual who has been charged with first degree murder or a Class A felony, who is found not guilty by reason of insanity, to participate in an outpatient treatment for a minimum of six months after being released to the community.
Under the new law, any individual who is currently committed to a hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for first degree murder or a Class A felony at the time the offense was committed is also subject to a trial court order to participate in outpatient treatment for at least six months when discharged from the facility.
It also requires that there be periodic reviews conducted by the trial court a minimum of once a year after the initial six-month period of outpatient treatment, in which the court will consider the various factors in deciding whether to continue or terminate the outpatient treatment requirement.
Equal Justice / Drug Offenses
State lawmakers voted this year to clarify that state drug laws preempt local ordinances in determining the appropriate sanction for drug offenses. Passage of the bill follows ordinances introduced in two cities in Tennessee that ease marijuana charges.
The purpose is to uphold Tennessee’s drug laws and apply justice equally in different localities in the state, regardless if the officer making the stop is employed by a city, county, or state law enforcement agency.
Desecration / Place of Worship of Burial
Another law passed this year enhances penalties for desecration of a place of worship or burial from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony. The measure is meant to discourage vandalism in such sacred places and to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions.
Legislation was approved this year empowering victims of crime. The legislation deletes a provision in current law that allows an alleged offender the right to have notice of and suspend all action concerning their victim’s claim for compensation under the criminal injuries compensation fund.
Victims of certain crimes are eligible for compensation for the offenses committed against them. A claim for compensation must be filed with the Division of Claims Administration of the Department of the Treasury no later than one year after the occurrence of the crime.
Victims / Order of Protection / Temporary Handgun Carry Permits
Final legislative approval was given to a new law allowing persons who have been granted an Order of Protection to immediately carry a handgun as long as they possess a copy of the order with them. It provides victims with the ability to protect themselves immediately as the process for obtaining a handgun permit can take weeks or months to obtain.
The person would have 21 days to receive a temporary handgun permit in order to carry the weapon for an additional 60 days. This allows the victim time to complete the Tennessee handgun carry permit process if desired.
Domestic Violence Offenders / Firearm Prohibition Notice
State lawmakers approved a new law ensuring that domestic violence offenders have indisputable notice regarding the prohibition from owning or possessing a firearm. Defendants who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm under both U.S. and Tennessee laws.
Although this fact is verbally communicated to the defendant upon entering a guilty plea, the notice provided is deficient when compared to the information provided to respondents in Order of Protection cases.
This legislation uses the procedure that already exists for Orders of Protection to ensure that every convicted offender receives and completes a form that further informs the defendant about firearm restrictions and when and how to dispossess firearms. Offenders with a history of domestic violence are five times more likely to murder an intimate partner when a firearm is present in the home.
Prisoners / Child Support
The General Assembly has voted to allow the Department of Human Services to put a lien against an inmate’s commissary account for the purpose of collecting child support.
Criminal Justice Reform / Expungement
Legislation has passed which gives individuals the opportunity for two offenses to be expunged—specifically, two misdemeanors or one misdemeanor and one class E felony at the discretion of the judge. Five years must have elapsed after completion of service for the original offenses or convictions and the offender must be up to date on court costs.
Criminal Justice Reform / Restoration of Driver’s License
A new law passed this year which expands the list of reasons that a judge could order the stay of the revocation of an offender’s license to include such things as driving to school, driving to church, participating in a recovery court, or other reasons at the discretion of the court. It also allows a person, who lacks the ability to pay for an attorney, to apply for the full restoration of driving privileges and waive of outstanding fees by filing an affidavit of indigency.
Children / Zero to Three Initiative
In court action this year, legislation was enacted establishing a new pilot program to help children from troubled homes avoid chronic adverse childhood experiences. It establishes the “Zero to Three Initiative Courts” within either a Juvenile Court or General Sessions Court, similar to Tennessee’s Drug Courts.
Chronic childhood trauma, or what experts call adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can disrupt a child’s brain-building process. Studies document the impact on brain development these chronic experiences, like emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, growing up in a home with domestic violence or substance abuse, have on children.
Left unaddressed, ACEs and their effects make it more difficult for a child to succeed in school, live a healthy life, and contribute to the state’s future prosperity — our communities, workforce, and civic life.
The primary goal of the Zero to Three Initiative is to reduce the time of permanency of children in at-risk environments by surrounding families of children age 36 months or younger with support services, whether it is returning them to parents, living with relatives or getting them ready for adoption.
Leaders from state government, the business world, advocates, insurers, academia and nonprofit foundations are organized as public and private sector steering groups to guide implementation and provide leadership at the state, regional, and community levels.
Currently, there are two courts embracing this initiative in Nashville and Grundy County. The legislation calls for five courts to be added in Tennessee this year, with five more following in the fiscal year 2018-2019. The courts will use best practices evolving from ACEs research to provide interventions and structures to optimize social, economic, and health outcomes for these children.
Legislation passed this year which makes contracting with Secretary of State for the use of administrative law judges mandatory, rather than optional, for forfeiture hearings in cases involving arson, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission the Department of Revenue, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
It revises other various provisions to reflect the fact that administrative law judges, instead of a hearing officer of administrative head of the agency, will be conducting the hearings.
Forfeiture of Civil Assets
A new law passed this year expanding the reporting requirements for the Annual Civil Asset Forfeiture Report provided by the Department of Safety (DOS) to committees of the Tennessee General Assembly. It also creates a General Session’s Court of Appeals process for a person with claim to property for which a forfeiture warrant has been issued by a magistrate or judicial commissioner.
The legislation further provides that if a forfeiture warrant was issued by a magistrate or judicial commissioner, the warrant, a copy of the affidavit, and the notice of seizure will not be sent to the applicable agency for seven business days.
House Bill 813 / Status: PC 441 / Effective Date: For the purposes of promulgating rules, policies, forms, and procedures and making necessary provisions for the implementation of this act, this act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it. For all other purposes, this act shall take effect July 1st, 2017.
Juvenile Justice Reform
The General Assembly tackled several juvenile justice reform measures during the 2017 session. The measures passed this year focus on providing juveniles with educational opportunities to place them on a path to success, rather than a life of crime. The new laws also seek to scale back court practices which are overly punitive, while balancing the need for public safety.
Truancy / Juvenile Justice Reform
Legislation establishing a creative and innovative truancy intervention program for students in K-12 schools has passed the General Assembly. Truancy is the most frequent reason given for schools referring juveniles to court. The new law creates a mentorship-type relationship between a designated school representative and child and parent in an opportunity to focus on attendance prior to it becoming a juvenile court issue.
The legislation requires that the schools notify parents at the beginning of the school year in writing regarding their attendance policy. After three unexcused absences, the student and parent are pulled into a conference with a school representative to address the absences and to implement the first tier of the progressive truancy intervention. An agreement is then signed by the student, parent and school representative, including the school’s attendance expectations for the child and penalties for additional absences.
Two additional tiers of interventions will be applied if the student accumulates additional unexcused absences in violation of the attendance contract. At least one tier must include an individualized assessment regarding the reasons for the absence, and if necessary, referral to the child to counseling, community-based services, or other services aimed at addressing the student’s attendance problems.
Juveniles / Detention Centers
A new law establishing rules and regulations to provide a consistent and appropriate level of education services to public school students who are incarcerated in Tennessee’s 17 juvenile detention centers was passed during the first session of the 110th General Assembly.
The detention centers are intended to be temporary holding facilities for youth awaiting adjudication, which is typically less than 72 hours. A small percentage of incarcerated youth, however, are held beyond this time period while a long-term placement option is determined or because a determinate sentence in the center has been given by a judge.
Presently, the law is not specific about the responsibility to educate students in juvenile detention centers who receive general education services. With education services lacking in some juvenile detention centers, this is concerning as the juveniles need to attain their degree to help them succeed.
The legislation passed this year will put the responsibility on the Local Education Agency (LEA) that is most appropriate to serve each juvenile detention center. It also requires that the Department of Education monitor the educational services provided in these centers and the Department of Children’s Services monitor each center’s compliance through its licensure of the detention centers.
Juvenile Justice Reform / Notification Process
Among several juvenile justice reform bills approved by the General Assembly this year involving the court process for expungement, is one which addresses the issue of notification of the need to file a motion to begin the process. Through this bill, the administrative office of the courts will create a form that can be used by the children themselves to move forward with the expungement process.
Juveniles / Sexually Explicit Images
A new law enacted this year addresses minors who are caught knowingly possessing or distributing sexually explicit images via electronic means in violation of Tennessee’s pornography statutes. It will provide Tennessee District Attorneys and Juvenile Court Judges with an alternative to the felony conviction required under current state law for such actions to charge minors with an “unruly act.”
However, it reserves the right for prosecutors to charge the juvenile under the felony statute if the crime warrants a higher level of punishment such as distribution of the photo or online posting. It also provides protections to those minors who do not solicit the photograph, video, or other material, or who delete it or report it to the minor’s parent or legal guardian, school staff, or law enforcement official.
Juvenile Justice Reform / Adolescent Files for Expungement
Similarly, another bill passed by lawmakers this year outlines scenarios that are taken into consideration when an adolescent files for expungement. It also creates a process to expunge cases that are disposed of by pretrial or judicial diversion after successfully completing one year of the court’s expungement conditions.
However, a motion could be made prior to the one year period, but would still require the court to find a successful completion so long as conditions are still met and the court believes expungement serves the best interest of the child and the community.
Juvenile Justice Reform / Filing Costs
A third bill on expungement for juveniles reduces court fees, removing the impediment for the juvenile moving forward in life. The current cost that accompanies filing a petition for expungement is $350.00. Through passage of this new law, the cost of expungement would be reduced to $180.00 to provide a more affordable fee.
Juvenile Justice Reform / Age of Eligibility for Expungement
Finally, legislation was passed that lowers the age of eligibility for expungement of non-violent offenders from 18 to 17 in order to allow adolescents the ability to start the process sooner. This new statute will help them be prepared to enter post-secondary education and the workforce with a clean record.
Topicschild endangerment, Child Pornography, Crime, Curtis Johnson, firefighters, First Degree Murder, First Responders, Grundy County, Handgun permits, Human Trafficking, Jackson TN, Juvenile, K-9, Knox County, law enforcement, Nashville TN, Opioids, prostitution, Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, TBI, TBI Crime Lab, Tennessee, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee General Assembly, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee State Representative, Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts
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