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Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

AG Selection Measure Falls Short

A handful of state Senate Republicans jumped ship and joined ranks with Democrats this week to narrowly defeated a GOP-driven measure to change how the state picks its top lawyer.

The proposed constitutional amendment would have stripped away the Supreme Court’s power to appoint the attorney general and given it to the governor and the Legislature. The measure fell short by one vote Monday after three Republicans voted against the bill and another two refused to weigh in.

“This system, whether you agree with it or don’t, has functioned well, and it’s not time to amend it,” said Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who voted against the measure. “As others have said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and I respectfully submit that’s the best response to proposals that would change our Constitution.”

The attorney general is too far removed from the people — as is the Supreme Court, which handpicks the AG, said Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the measure’s sponsor. The arrangement makes for a conflict of interest any time the attorney general argues before the state’s highest court, she said.

“I doubt that anyone can say with a straight face that it is fair to have the state’s chief lawyers arguing the most important cases in front of the very members of the court who appointed him,” said Beavers, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans in the Senate first turned their attention to the attorney general last year in their frustration over current Attorney General Bob Cooper’s refusal to join a national legal battle against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Cooper contends that hopping on the bandwagon to fight the so-called “individual-mandate” portion of the health system overhaul would have been a waste of time and money because the issue was already headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is expected to announce in June a decision in the suit brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business and two individual plaintiffs.

Attempts last year to require the attorney general to be elected never advanced out of legislative committees. This year’s measure, SJR693, called for the attorney general to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature to serve six-year terms. The attorney general currently serves eight-year terms.

The measure failed on a 16-15 vote. It needed 17 votes to stay alive, although it would have needed majority approval in the House and a supermajority, or two-thirds support, vote again before the 2014 election when voters would decide the issue.

Republicans voting against the change were Sens. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville; Doug Overbey of Maryville; Jim Summerville of Dickson. GOP senators who were present but opted against weighing in were retiring Sen. Mike Faulk of Church Hill and Rusty Crowe of Johnson City.

TNGOP Statement on Massey Election to State Senate

Press Release from the Tennessee Republican Party, Nov 8, 2011:

TNGOP Chairman’s Statement on the Election of Becky Duncan Massey as State Senator, District 6

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney released the following statement on the election of Republican Becky Duncan Massey as State Senator for District 6.

“Tennesseans have repeatedly voiced their desire for elected officials who understand what it takes to create an environment for job creation and economic growth. Voters in Knox County once again voiced that desire by electing Becky Duncan Massey to the State Senate in the 6th District special election. Her commitment to smaller government, low taxes, and less regulations is exactly what voters in Knox County want. I congratulate Becky on this convincing victory, said Devaney.

“I also want to thank Jamie Woodson for her years of representation in this seat and interim State Senator Sue Atchley for her willingness to serve the voters of District 6 during this transition period,” concluded Devaney.

With most precincts reporting, Massey received 65% of the vote, compared to 35% for Democrat Gloria Johnson. District 6 includes a portion of Knox County.