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Witnesses Announced for Mid-Sept Criminal Justice Reform Hearing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) August 26, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey today released the names of the witnesses scheduled to testify regarding proposed criminal justice reforms in Tennessee. The hearing will occur before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 15 – 16.

“These experts will help us learn from other states how to best protect the public while saving taxpayer dollars. Our committee is privileged to partner with such talented witnesses in the effort to improve the criminal justice system in Tennessee,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The witnesses will provide testimony on the following three subjects: 1) Criminal Justice Reform: How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) Criminal Justice Reform: What other states have done, and 3) Criminal Justice Reform: Suggested changes for Tennessee.

The scheduled witnesses for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Tommy Francis, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • Mark Gwyn, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County, Tennessee
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Chris Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, Sullivan County, Tennessee
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charlie White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Laws to Combat Human Trafficking Take Effect July 1

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 27, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, TN), June 27, 2013 — July 1 marks the implementation of a wide variety of new laws in Tennessee as the 2013-2014 fiscal year is set to begin. This includes twelve of the thirteen new laws, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), to combat the growing problem of human trafficking.

Kelsey said the legislation builds on human trafficking laws passed in 2011 and 2012 after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report spotlighted the problem. The TBI report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. The study also showed that sixty-two counties reported the presence of sex trafficking of minors.

“This is a widespread problem in Tennessee, and is especially disturbing as many victims of human trafficking are children,” said Chairman Kelsey. “The legislation set to take effect on Monday enhances penalties against those who promote or patronize the illegal act, gives more rights to human trafficking victims, updates our laws to help ensure offenders cannot escape prosecution, and provides that this crime is included in the list of gang-related offenses. It also provides for a Task Force to make sure we are combating the problem.”

A 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported, “Gangs are increasingly engaging in non-traditional gang-related crime, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution. Gang involvement in alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution is increasing primarily due to their higher profitability and lower risks of detection and punishment than that of drug and weapons trafficking.”

“Criminal street gangs have embraced human trafficking as a lucrative revenue source,” added Kelsey. “Sex trafficking now rivals narcotic sales as a major source of revenue for many gangs.”

Provisions of the new laws include:

Organized Crime

  • adds trafficking for commercial sex acts to the list of gang-related offenses;
  • adds trafficking for commercial sex acts, promoting prostitution, patronizing prostitution, solicitation of a minor, soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor and exploitation of a minor by electronic means to the list of criminal acts that can constitute a charge of unlawful debts;

Minors / Victims

  • adds aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, trafficking for commercial sex acts, patronizing prostitution and promoting prostitution, to the list of offenses for which a minor or a law enforcement officer posing as a minor might be solicited;
  • prohibits defendants from using consent as a defense in the cases of solicitation, sexual exploitation of a minor, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor;
  • prohibits the lack of knowledge of a person’s age as a defense against the charges of patronizing prostitution or soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor;
  • creates grounds for the termination of parental rights when a parent or guardian is convicted of trafficking for commercial sex acts.
  • allows children who are victims of trafficking for commercial sex acts and patronizing prostitution the opportunity to testify outside of the courtroom by using a two-way closed circuit television;
  • extends the statute of limitations for minor victims from ten to fifteen years after the victim has turned 18 to give victims more time to make that realization;
  • provides defendants or victims of sex trafficking restitution of special damages that include medical- and counseling-related expenses the victim incurred as a result of sex trafficking and other offenses;

Penalties

  • increases the charge of promoting the prostitution of a minor from a Class E felony to a Class A or B felony;
  • creates a new Class D felony offense for promoting travel for prostitution; and

Task Force

  • creates a Human Trafficking Task Force charged with the duty of creating a plan for the prevention of human trafficking within the state.

Senate Judiciary Approves Resolution Calling for Governor-appointed Supreme Court Justices

Press release from the Senate Republican Caucus; April 4, 2012:

(NASHVILLE, TN), April 4, 2012 — Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave approval to a major constitutional amendment resolution sponsored by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to appoint state appellate judges in a manner similar to the federal model. U.S. Supreme Court justices, Courts of Appeals judges, and District Court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate, as stated in the U.S. Constitution. Similarly, under Senate Joint Resolution 710, Tennessee’s Governor would appoint judges to the Supreme Court and state appellate courts, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly for eight year terms.

“Tennessee deserves and the Constitution demands a more open system for appointing judges,” said Sen. Kelsey. “This is a proposal that takes the best parts of the federal model and the Tennessee Plan that will give us quality judges who are responsive to the people.”

Tennessee’s Constitution requires that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” which concerns many lawmakers who believe the current system does not fully satisfy that mandate despite an Attorney General opinion to the contrary. Earlier this year, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Governor Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell also said legislative action is needed to ensure it is constitutionally correct.

Under the state’s current Tennessee Plan for selecting appellate judges, a 17-member Judicial Nominating Commission reviews applicants and sends the governor a panel of three nominees for consideration. The governor must then appoint one of the nominees or reject the panel and request a second panel. After being appointed through this process, the appellate judges must stand for approval by the voters after completion of their term, with the people deciding whether or not to “retain” or “replace” them.

Kelsey’s legislation would delete the Judicial Nominating Commission, giving the Governor full authority like the federal model to select the nominee he/she believes is best qualified to serve as judge. His resolution, however, would keep the current Tennessee Plan provision which gives voters an opportunity to retain or replace the judge through a statewide vote. Only state Supreme Court and appellate judges would be affected by the proposed changes. Trial court judges would continue to run in contested elections.

If approved by the General Assembly, the measure could be on the ballot as early as November 2014. Before proceeding to a vote by the people, the resolution must be approved by a simple majority of the legislature in 2012 after three readings and must receive a two-thirds majority of both chambers in the following legislative session.

Ramsey Tips Deadlocked Committee in Favor of Electing Judges

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, March 29, 2011:

(Nashville) — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey today cast the tie-breaking vote to advance a bill requiring the election of all judges in the State of Tennessee, including appellate and Supreme Court justices. The 4 to 4 tie occurred in Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting on Senate Bill 127. Lt. Governor Ramsey broke the tie by voting in favor of the bill.

Ramsey took the step because he believes state constitution currently demands that judges “shall be elected” in the state of Tennessee.

“It is clear that we need judicial reform in Tennessee,” said Ramsey. “I don’t necessarily think that electing judges is best for the state in the long term but the constitution is the constitution and the constitution clearly states that judges shall be elected.”

The state currently operates under the “Tennessee Plan” which allows the governor to appoint judges from a select list of candidates from a nominating commission. Judges then stand for what is called a “retention election” where votes make a yes or no decision on whether a judge keeps their job. While the constitutionality of the plan has been affirmed by the Supreme Court, many legal scholars dispute the ruling.

“My hope is that my actions today will spur those who recognize the need for reform to craft a constitutional judicial solution in an expeditious manner,” Ramsey continued. “Either we change the constitution or we change the Tennessee Plan. Sooner or later, this has to be addressed. I prefer sooner.”

The last time Lt. Gov. Ramsey entered a committee to break a tie was in 2009. Senate Bill 127 moves next to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.