Posts

Tennessee Highway Patrol to Receive Top Honor for Impaired Driving Enforcement

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Safety, Oct. 15, 2013;

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Highway Patrol has been recognized among the country’s top state police and highway patrol agencies by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

The THP earned second place in the national organization’s 2012 law enforcement challenge and won the special category award for impaired driving. Colonel Tracy Trott will accept the awards on behalf of the state’s highway patrol at the IACP annual conference in Philadelphia, Pa., next week.

The THP took top honors in the impaired driving category based on its year-round efforts to detect and apprehend drunk drivers and to address this traffic safety issue through policies, officer training and public information and education.

“DUI enforcement continues to be one of the most important duties of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. In 2012, state troopers increased the number of impaired driving arrests by over 25 percent from 2011. We are proud of the steps we have implemented to make our state safer, and more will be implemented as we move forward,” Trott said.

The THP has earned second in the overall National Law Enforcement Challenge for three consecutive years.

The National Law Enforcement Challenge is a competition between law enforcement agencies of similar sizes and types. The THP competed in the State Police/Highway Patrol category for agencies with 501-1,000 officers. As part of the challenge, the state’s Highway Patrol submitted an application documenting its efforts and effectiveness in traffic safety enforcement.

“This is a tremendous honor for the Tennessee Highway Patrol and every Tennessee State Trooper. This honor would not be possible without their commitment to traffic enforcement and public safety. They are truly Tennessee’s finest,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.  Commissioner Gibbons heads the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

The IACP is the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization of police executive with more than 20,000 members in some 200 countries.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s (www.TN.Gov/safety) mission is to ensure that our state is a safe, secure place in which to live, work and travel; enforce the law with integrity; and provide customer-focused services professionally and efficiently.

Audit: State Still Checking In On Long-Dead Parolees

Press Release from Comptroller Justin Wilson; Oct. 1, 2012: 

The Comptroller released today an audit of the state Board of Parole that found, at a minimum, annual arrest checks were completed on behalf of 82 parolees who had been dead for varying lengths of time, ranging from less than six months to more than 19 years. At worst, officers documented contact indicating offenders were still alive.

The audit also noted that many files managed by probation and parole officers were not in compliance with all board supervision requirements and were not regularly reviewed by management. In some cases, officers failed to complete or document their attempts to complete all of the required face-to-face contacts with parolees. In other cases, officers did not perform required home visits of regular offenders. The audit also showed some sex offenders tracked by GPS equipment had not been properly monitored.

“Inadequate supervision of offenders results in increased public risks and jeopardizes public safety,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “If parole officers are supervising dead people, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars and makes us wonder about the supervision of parolees living in our communities.”

Auditors also found a number of other issues with the Board of Parole’s operations, including questionable practices for providing notice of hearing decisions and upcoming board meetings.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/SA/pa12036.pdf

Haslam Signs ‘Public Safety’ Legislation

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; June 6, 2012:

BARTLETT – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing at the Bartlett Criminal Justice Center to highlight three pieces of public safety legislation. The bills were a result of his administration’s multi-agency, comprehensive public safety action plan aimed at curbing violent crime, lowering the rate of repeat offenders, and significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking in Tennessee.

“One of the key roles of state government is to keep citizens safe,” Haslam said. “These laws will play an important role in combating some of our state’s toughest safety challenges.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) reports that in 2010 and 2011, domestic violence victims made up more than half of all reported crimes against Tennesseans. HB 2389/SB 2251 increases the mandatory jail time for repeat domestic assault offenders. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) sponsored the legislation.

There were nearly 6,000 reported weapons law violations statewide in 2011, according to TBI. The felons with guns bill, HB 2388/SB 2250, increases sentencing for certain convicted felons in possession of firearms. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) sponsored the bill.

The gang violence bill, HB 2390/SB 2252, gives district attorneys a new tool to charge individuals that commit crimes of force or violence. This new law makes the crimes of aggravated assault, robbery and aggravated burglary a criminal class higher for sentencing purposes if these crimes are committed by three or more individuals acting in concert. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) were sponsors.

In May, the governor signed his prescription drug abuse legislation, which was also part of the administration’s public safety action plan. The law requires prescribers and dispensers of prescription drugs to register with the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database. All prescribers must also check the database for a patient’s controlled substance history before prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine.

The public safety action plan was created by the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group that includes commissioners and representatives from the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Correction, Health and Military along with the chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, the directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office (Department of Transportation), Office of Criminal Justice Programs (Department of Finance and Administration), Law Enforcement Training Academy (Department of Commerce and Insurance) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The plan outlines 11 objectives and 40 actions steps and includes input gathered from meetings with more than 300 public safety professionals and stakeholders across the state.

Haslam on Meth

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, Sept. 28, 2010:

Will Work With State and Local Law Enforcement Officials to Tackle Problem

ATHENS – Republican gubernatorial nominee and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam issued the following statement today after a stop in McMinn County – a county among many in East Tennessee struggling to fight growing trends of methamphetamine abuse.

“Meth production and abuse is an issue we must address throughout the state, but it has become especially challenging in McMinn County and other parts of East Tennessee,” said Haslam. “This is a drug that is extremely dangerous and that has had a detrimental impact on many lives.

“From those who use and suffer health consequences or end up in jail, to drug producers and others who are harmed through meth-related accidents, to the countless children and other innocent victims who have their lives disrupted, meth is incredibly destructive and has no place in our society,” Haslam continued.

“The Meth Free Tennessee Act was an important step for our state, but as meth producers adapt and find new ways to make this drug we must renew and strengthen our efforts to fight it,” Haslam added. “As governor, I will address this issue head-on and work toward issues at the state level as well as support for local law enforcement officials engaged in this important battle.”

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor. Haslam is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah.

Voters to Decide if ‘Personal Right’ to Hunt & Fish is Reasonable

The term “reasonable” doesn’t appear in the U.S. or Tennessee Constitutions, except for proscriptions against the government carrying out “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But the Tennessee Wildlife Federation — with the endorsement of all but three members of the state Legislature — wants to add that word, and 59 or so others, in the form of a constitutional amendment that would place hunting and fishing on the list of legally protected rights enjoyed by Tennesseans.

The amendment, which if passed would be added to the section of the Tennessee Constitution that grants state government the authority “to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish,” reads as follows:

“The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The process of getting the measure before voters has been years in the making. Conceived in 2004, the language has twice been approved by the General Assembly — most recently, this past legislative session — and must now attract “yes” votes from a majority of voters participating in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Critics of the amendment suggest that a change to the Constitution is unnecessary and excessive.

Argues the state’s largest metropolitan newspaper, “a simple resolution would have sufficed to send the message that hunting and fishing is here to stay.” Furthermore, the use of the word “reasonable” is “vague and open to interpretation.” It could, for example, embolden litigious malcontents to challenge licensing and fee requirements placed upon sportsmen by the Tennessee Department of Fish and Wildlife and thus jeopardize “a crucial revenue source,” the Tennessean editorial board worries.

Those concerns, however, don’t appear to be shared by state government wildlife managers.

Nat Johnson, TWRA assistant executive director of staff operations, said the term “reasonable” sounds reasonable enough to officials and attorneys with the department, although he noted that the agency cannot by law take a formal stance of support or opposition on the measure.

Officials do, however, offer that they in no way see the language of the amendment as hindering “the responsibilities of the agency to set manner and means” for taking fish and wildlife, said Johnson, who also serves as TWRA’s legislative liaison to the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Legal staff has looked at this, and they have not seen it become an issue in any other states,” he said. “They haven’t seen that it provided any avenues for people to challenge a state’s ability to regulate and set reasonable rules and regulations.”

More than a dozen other states have guarantees of hunters’ rights written into their constitutions, and others are considering measures.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Michael Butler told TNReport his group consulted closely with state wildlife officials, constitutional attorneys and the chief legislative sponsors of the amendment, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, to ensure that the amendment language enumerates the desired right without undermining state government fish and wildlife management authority.

“Most people already think they have a right to hunt and fish. So for most people, this amendment is just confirming what they already thought,” Butler said. “They can’t really imagine not being able to do it.”

However, the whole point of the amendment, he said, is to add a layer of legal defense against political activists and pressure groups that believe hunting and fishing not only aren’t “rights,” but probably shouldn’t even be tolerated by government.

Constitutionally speaking, “all it would take now to get rid of a hunting or fishing season is a vote by the Legislature,” Butler said.

Johnson confirmed that the department advised the wildlife federation on the amendment “almost since its inception.”

“We worked to achieve a comfort level that we thought everybody could live with,” he said.

Vanderbilt constitutional law professor James Blumstein noted that although the term “reasonable” isn’t one you’ll find in constitutional language, it “permeates our law.”

While a subjective interpretation might at times be “fairly debatable,” Blumstein said, judges generally approach it from the standpoint of asking if government has “a rational basis for doing something, and that it meets a reasonableness test.”

“There will be some deference to the regulation, but the regulations have to be reasonable,” he said. In situations where hunting rights conflict with public safety, private property or species management goals, Blumstein said he believes the amendment leaves the government “ample authority to regulate.”

“But what the government cannot do is to simply say we’re against hunting, on the grounds of policy, or that we think that is immoral or that it’s inappropriate in some way, and just have a flat-out ban,” Blumstein said. “Most rights in the Constitution are not absolute rights, and this is recognizing that the right to hunt may exist, but it is not absolute.”

TDOC Releases Repeat-Offender Study

State of Tennessee Press Release, June 15, 2010

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Correction has discovered some encouraging news in its latest study on recidivism. The just released report shows that felons released from TDOC prisons are now less likely to return to custody.

The return rate for ex-felons dropped 3% in the latest survey. For 2005, the recidivism rate stood at 38.8% for offenders who had been out of prison for three years. That’s compared to a 42% rate in 2001. While there is no recognized national average for recidivism, return rates range as high as 65% for individual states.

For Tennessee taxpayers, a 3% drop in return means an annual savings of $3,933,502.80 based on the $64.92 daily rate to house an inmate.

Even better news is that the TDOC is maintaining extremely low return rates for felons convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault. Three years after their release, these offenders were only 25% likely to return to prison compared to the nearly 44% return rate for those convicted of property offenses.

“While any return of such serious offenders is undesirable, the consistent ability of the TDOC to achieve these low return rates is noteworthy,” said Commissioner Gayle Ray. “The lower recidivism rates show that rehabilitation efforts which include evidence-based programming are working and must continue.”

Guns-in-Bars Bill Clears Senate

Press Release from Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, April 29, 2010:

Bill allows permit holders to carry weapons in establishments that serve alcohol

NASHVILLE – The State Senate passed a bill Thursday 23-9 sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol.

“This version of the legislation will provide law-abiding citizens the opportunity to responsibly and legally exercise their Second Amendment rights while allowing business owners to run their establishments as they like,” Jackson said.

The bill (SB3012) allows handgun carry permit holders to legally take their weapons into establishments where alcohol is served. The Senate version passed Thursday would make illegal the consumption of alcohol while carrying a firearm, and allows business owners to ban guns completely from their premises by posting clear, specific public notice.

The bill creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and/or up to a year in jail, if a person is found to be consuming alcohol while in possession of a handgun. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) would revoke a permit holder’s permit for three years if he or she were found to be intoxicated while in possession of a handgun.

Possession of a handgun in an establishment that bans guns would result in a $500 fine.

“This bill will lower the barrier to law-abiding citizens to carry their firearms during the course of a normal day, and will give them an opportunity to defend themselves if necessary,” Jackson said. “The record of safety and responsibility among millions of handgun carry permit holders across the country is simply undeniable. Law-abiding citizens should not be disarmed. The only people who like that idea are criminals.”

The House version of the bill is expected to reach a floor vote soon.

Sen. Barnes: Water Districts Should Give Fluoride Notification

Press release from state Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, Feb. 26, 2010:

Bill aims to avoid Montgomery County confusion

NASHVILLE – Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, is sponsoring a bill requiring utility districts to notify customers if they stop adding fluoride to their water supply, in hopes of avoiding future concerns like those that arose in Montgomery County.

“There has been an ongoing debate about fluoride in water supplies, and we need to have a standard in place if a system decides to remove it. This bill establishes that standard,” Barnes said.

The bill would require any public water system to give public notice at least 30 days before discontinuing fluoridation. The system would also have to notify the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Health at least 10 days in advance.

The bill stems from residents’ concern in the East Montgomery and Cunningham areas after the East Montgomery Water Treatment Plant stopped fluoridating its water supply in Feb. 2006.

The utility district did not notify its customers of the change, which was outlined in an October 2007 article in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. After discussion, the district’s Board of Directors decided in 2008 to keep fluoride out of its water supply.

Utility districts across the country have fluoridated their water supplies for decades, as small amounts of fluoride have been shown to prevent tooth decay. Recently, some districts have removed fluoride due to research indicating that young children could develop teeth spotting and potentially severe bone problems as a result of excess fluoride.

“There is support on both sides of the issue, but the public deserves to know if there is going to be a change in policy,” Barnes said.

The bill (SB2987) is scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Jackson Wants Tougher Penalties for Crimes Against Women, Kids

Press Release from Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, 23 Feb. 2010:

Bill would make murderers of pregnant women eligible for death penalty

NASHVILLE – Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) will present two bills in a Senate committee Tuesday afternoon that enforce harsher penalties for crimes committed against pregnant women and young children.

“We have a duty to protect those who are vulnerable, and pregnant women and children are the ultimate examples,” Jackson said. “Criminals who commit heinous acts against these groups deserve punishments that fit the crimes.”

Under Senate Bill 2392, a killer convicted of first-degree murder for knowingly killing a pregnant woman automatically would become eligible for the death penalty or life without parole. The bill will give a jury the opportunity to impose an appropriate punishment against a murderer of a pregnant woman, thereby assuring justice for society and the victim’s family.

“A premeditated murder against a pregnant woman is repugnant to society,” Jackson said. “The tragic loss of a mother-to-be is particularly shocking and harmful to a family. The family loses much more than a wife and a mother.”

Senate Bill 2388 requires convicted child rapists who complete their prison sentences to be supervised by an officer of the state of Tennessee for the rest of their lives.

During his time in the legislature, Sen. Jackson has sponsored bills that made the sex offender registry public and accessible via the Internet, as well as the legislation that required state lifetime supervision of sex offenders. Child rapists would be added to that list under SB2388.

“I have led the charge against sex offenders in Tennessee,” Jackson said. “Child rapists should serve long sentences without parole, and once they have completed every day of their sentences, they should never be released back into our communities without active supervision by a state officer.”

Both bills are scheduled to be discussed during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday in LP12.

Senator Doug Jackson represents Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Humphreys, Lawrence, and Lewis Counties. Contact him at sen.doug.jackson@capitol.tn.gov or (615) 741-4499 or 302 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0025.

BTW, Effects of Laws Against DWSMSing Still Unknown

Text messaging behind the wheel of a moving vehicle is illegal in Tennessee and about 20 other states. But there’s continuing debate on just whether the laws here or elsewhere are showing any demonstrable policy successes.

That topic was the subject of a short discussion detour on this week during a AAA Auto Club presentation before the House Transportation Committee.

At this point, it is still “too early to measure statistical results (of the texting ban) in Tennessee” that was signed into law last spring, said Don Lindsey, public affairs director for AAA of East Tennessee.

But Lindsey said one of the only studies in the country to study texting behavior before-and-after passage of an anti-texting law — a “direct observation” survey of thousands of California motorists that was sponsored by AAA — indicated the practice had dropped off by more than two-thirds.

According to a AAA press release, visual surveys conducted prior to the texting ban showed that about 1.4 percent of Orange County drivers were texting while driving. “The two post-law surveys showed that level had dropped substantially — to about 0.4 percent — a decline of about 70 percent overall,” stated the release.

The release noted that “surveys of the general public and AAA’s membership” show support for texting laws running between 80 and 90 percent — but also that “20-25 percent of drivers admit to texting while driving at least once in the past.”

Lindsey told Tennessee legislators the California study gives clear indication that “laws can have an effect on behavior.”

Soon thereafter, Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, one of 30 state lawmakers who voted against the anti-texting bill last year, stopped Lindsey’s presentation to signal his incredulity with the study’s methodology and results.

“I find it hard to attribute (the texting decline) to passing the law,” said Johnson, who chairs the Rural Roads Subcommittee. “And how do you know they were texting?”

“You could see them,” Lindsey responded.

Johnson then asked how the researchers could be sure the motorists “weren’t punching a phone number,” which is still legal.

“They could tell because they didn’t put it up to their ear. They were looking at it and reading it. They could tell for any number of reasons,” said Lindsey.

Johnson  indicated he remained unconvinced, and said that while the results might be “pretty dramatic,” “striking,” and even “shocking,” he wouldn’t read much into them.

“We have trouble with the texting law that we have right now, and I don’t think law enforcement has even applied it yet because they can’t prove it,” said Johnson.

Mike Browning, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Safety, reported after the meeting that state troopers have issued just seven citations for infractions of the law.

“(The Department of) Safety sees texting and driving as a very dangerous distraction behavior,” he wrote in an email to TNReport.

Browning added that “(i)t is a challenge for law enforcement since dialing on a cell phone is permissible, however if officers clearly observe a motorist engaged in texting or reading a device, they are subject to citation.”

After the exchange between the AAA spokesman and Rep. Johnson during the committee hearing, another lawmaker referenced a study released last month that suggested there’s no indication laws banning the use of cell phones while driving have improved traffic safety.

That study, sponsored by the Highway Loss Data Institute, found “no reductions in crashes after hand-held phone bans take effect.”

HLDI researchers said they examined monthly collision claims before and after hand-held phone-use by drivers was banned in New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia and California. They also looked at similar data from nearby jurisdictions without the bans for control purposes.

The researchers determined “the laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk,” said Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and its affiliate, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is an automobile insurer-supported group.

“Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned,” Lund said. “This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.”

After that study was mentioned, it was AAA’s turn to scoff at the findings.

“It was very irresponsible of them to even comment on texting, because their study had nothing to do with texting,” said Kevin Bakewell, public affairs vice president for AAA Auto Club South. “Their study had to do with the use of hands-free, or hand-held cell phone bans in some states.

“There’s a huge difference between texting and using a cell phone.Texting obviously requires you to take your mind not only off the road, but your hands off the wheel, and you eyes off the road as well,” he added. “Their study did not even look at texting, but they did comment on it, unfortunately.”

Russ Rader, a spokesman for IIHS, acknowledged his group’s study didn’t look at texting bans, only cell phones.

“But we would not expect a different results if we had studied texting bans,” he said. “The reason for that is these laws are very difficult to enforce. Lawmakers who think these laws are going to have a significant effect on reducing crashes are likely to be disappointed — whether it is a hand-held cell phone ban or texting.”