During a press conference in Columbia on April 21, Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hinted that he’s leaning toward signing a controversial bill that grants prosecutors power to bring misdemeanor criminal charges against pregnant drug-addicted women who deliver substance-dependent babies.
The measure has become controversial across the state and the country as politicians and advocacy groups argue over whether it will help “narcotic drug” addicts and their babies by encouraging treatment, or if it instead constitutes an overreach of government power and may actually cause more harm than good. Supporters say it is “meant to protect the unborn,” while opponents contend that the proposed change in law would “criminalize pregnancy outcomes.”
While Haslam acknowledged that Senate Bill 1391 is a measure “we particularly want to look at,” he said his administration’s officials in the Departments of Health and Mental Health helped mold the language of the bill that ultimately passed both chambers of the General Assembly.
The bill appears to cover only those drugs derived from opium and the coca plants, and does not include methamphetamine or synthetically manufactured pharmaceutical drugs.
In the House, virtually all those who voted “no” were Democrats — although a few notable Republicans joined their ranks, like Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks and State Government Committee Chairman Ryan Haynes, both of Knoxville, and conservative Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough. However, in the Senate not one Democrat voted against the measure — and it was sponsored by Reginald Tate, a Memphis Democrat who serves as chairman of the Shelby County legislative delegation.
The governor has until April 29 to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his endorsement.