Press Releases

House GOP Goes After Drunks Driving with Kids in Vehicle

Press release from the House Republican Caucus; April 19, 2012:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The House this week agreed to tough new restrictions against irresponsible conduct behind the wheel that may save the lives of children.

Generally, under present law, upon conviction of a first DUI offense, an offender is fined between $350 and $1,500. This individual is also prohibited from driving a vehicle in Tennessee for one year, given a sentence that can range from 48 hours to 11 months and 29 days of probation, and be ordered to remove litter during daylight hours from public roadways.

However, if at the time of the commission of the DUI, the person was accompanied by a child under 18 years of age, then the person must be punished by a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000.

House Bill 2751, by Representative Tony Shipley (R—Blountville), will increase those provisions of the law. Under his bill, a minimum incarceration of 30 days must be served consecutively with any sentence for convictions of DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or aggravated vehicular homicide.

“As an emergency responder in my professional life, I see too many careless individuals willing to risk the life of others. That must be stopped. This bill increases penalty for that type of violation,” stated Shipley after passage of the legislation. “This bill is a personal priority of mine and I believe it will help save the lives of our most vulnerable citizens—our children.”

Representative Julia Hurley (R—Lenoir City) who supported the legislation and is anxious to see it become law added, “This bill needs to become law because even one additional life that is risked because of the carelessness of a drunk driver. This was a strong action by the General Assembly.”

To view a full summary of the legislation, please click here.

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Todd Bails on Bill Allowing Gov’t to Coerce Blood Tests in DUI Arrests

Rep. Curry Todd ducked out of the House of Representatives in just enough time Thursday to miss voting on a bill giving judges the power to force people to submit to blood-alcohol tests who are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.

Todd, formerly a Memphis cop and lobbyist for the Fraternal Order of Police, refused a breath test himself after he was arrested last fall on suspicion of DUI. He has since pleaded innocent and the case has been bound over to a grand jury.

The Collierville Republican was walking around the chamber Thursday morning during debate about HB2752, a measure that would allow a judge to issue a warrant or court order giving police the legal power to extract a blood or breath sample against an individual’s will.

During the bill’s floor debate, Todd told the House clerk he was feeling sick and got permission to go home, according to Kara Owen, Speaker Beth Harwell’s spokeswoman. Todd publicly announced this week that he was diagnosed several years ago with a slow-growing, incurable form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

House Bill 2752 narrowly passed, 52-33, with bipartisan support. It received two votes more than it needed for passage.

Todd was arrested Oct. 11 in Nashville. He was charged with illegal possession of a gun police allegedly found tucked between the driver’s seat and the center console, and was charged with refusing to take a Breathalyzer test in addition to DUI.

Under state law, drivers enter an “implied consent” agreement to submit to Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol tests. First-timers refusing to take the test gives up the right to drive anywhere but to and from work for a year, even if they are ultimately found not guilty of the drinking and driving charge.

Last budget year, 2,241 drivers were convicted for rejecting the tests, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.  In that same time frame, the state recorded 22,119 DUI convictions, although it does not specify how many of those convictions overlap. Those statistics include convictions both of Tennesseans across state lines and out-of-towners convicted in the Volunteer State.

Todd wasn’t the only lawmaker present who decided not to vote on the measure. Eleven other lawmakers were in attendance during the vote and refused to weigh in for or against the bill, including six Republicans and five Democrats. Among them were the chamber’s top party leaders, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

“It concerns a lot of people when the government holds people down and takes bodily fluids out. I think you saw that in the close vote today,” McCormick said. “It’s just something where we have to find where the line is and draw it.”

The measure awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Liberty and Justice News

Todd’s No-Blow Shows He’s Wise to Ways of Beating DUI

It remains to be seen whether prosecutors will be able to prove Rep. Curry Todd was impaired when he was arrested in Nashville this month on suspicion of drunk driving and unlawfully possessing a firearm.

But if the police affidavit filed after the arrest is accurate, the Shelby County Republican lawmaker violated a state law that requires motorists to submit to a blood-alcohol content test when asked to by law enforcement officials.

Todd, formerly a Memphis cop and lobbyist for the state Fraternal Order of Police, is charged with violating Tennessee’s “implied consent” law when he refused the officer’s request that he blow into a breathalyzer. But from the standpoint of avoiding self incrimination, aside from admitting he consumed “two drinks,” Todd handled his drunk-driving arrest skillfully — especially for somebody who may suspect he’s over the legal limit but doesn’t want to hand a prosecutor all the evidence needed for an easy conviction.

“If you’re driving, I wouldn’t admit to anything,” said Rob McKinney, the incoming president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a Nashville DUI attorney who blogged about Todd’s arrest. “You have the right of the Fifth Amendment. It’s better to not say anything than to lie to a police officer.”

While every case is different, defense attorneys generally advise against agreeing to field sobriety and blood alcohol content tests as long as the driver is willing to give up his or her license for a year in exchange for giving prosecutors a tougher job seeking a DUI conviction.

McKinney, who questions the accuracy of sobriety tests, said anything from having bad knees, being overweight and being tested on crooked and poorly lit ground could throw off how drivers perform on the field sobriety tests while technical problems with machinery can impact the results on chemical tests.

“I think there’s too much discretion left to police officers to ask somebody to submit to a blood or breath test,” he said.

Drivers who violate the “implied consent” law by refusing sobriety tests risk suspension of their driver’s license for a year — even if the driver is ultimately acquitted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol charges, according to state law.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20 percent of drivers suspected of drunk driving refuse to take a breathalyzer or blood alcohol content test.

Tennessee’s 1969 law has grown stronger over the years, including this spring when Todd and the General Assembly voted almost unanimously to force suspected drunk drivers to take the tests if the driver has a DUI on record or a child was in the vehicle at the time of the stop.

Todd has refused to comment about the details of his Oct. 11 arrest or his decision to step down as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee aside from e-mailed statements to the media saying he has been advised by his lawyer not to give further comments.

According to a police affidavit, an officer read Todd the implied consent law. Todd then “stated that he understood and subsequently refused to perform a breath alcohol test,” according to the affidavit.

In the last budget year, Tennessee recorded 2,241 convictions of drivers who rejected the tests and 22,119 DUI convictions. Those numbers include convictions of Tennesseans across state lines and out-of-towners convicted in the Volunteer State.

The total number of “implied consent” convictions is down over the last four years after hitting a high of 2,750 convictions in the 2006-07 fiscal year. The total number of DUI convictions has also dropped by 6,000, or 21 percent, in the last four years.

“We don’t think it’s right that the best evidence in a DUI situation can be suppressed by the defendant automatically,” said Guy Jones, deputy executive director of the District Attorneys General Conference.

“If you committed any other crime and we wanted to get a fingerprint or a hair sample or something, DNA, we could get that. Whereas in a DUI situation, if a person can avoid not being tested for several hours, then we lost what was the best evidence,” he said.

Chris Dye, a DUI enforcement training instructor for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said he’s had more people refuse to take sobriety tests than agree in the last few years.

“A lot of these professional drunks, these ones with multiple DUIs, they’re used to refusing,” he continued, adding he’s looking forward to tougher implied consent laws. “It’s been dismissed more than it’s been enforced, and it really hasn’t served the purpose it’s been intended for.”

There’s a push within Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to fix issues like that as a team of commissioners plan to “completely” rewrite the state’s DUI laws.

“Driving is a privilege, not a right, and I think every driver needs to understand that,” said Bill Gibbons, commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and former district attorney in Memphis. “If you don’t obey the law, you can lose that privilege.”

The working group of commissioners from the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Military, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol expected to send Gov. Bill Haslam a rough draft of their recommendations last week, Gibbons said.

“If you read it, it’s a patchwork law at this point, and it’s very complicated. A lot of exceptions to general rules and so on. We just need to go through, rewrite it, simplify it, streamline it,” he told TNReport.

“They’re very complicated, they’ve been amended here and there over many years. So what we’re looking at is really a rewrite of our DUI laws to simplify them, make them understandable not only to DUI officers but to the public as well,” he said.

Gibbons said it’s still up in the air as to whether the recommendations will include an overhaul of the implied consent law.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the curve on that,” he said.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said Todd’s decision to refuse a breathalyzer test didn’t factor into her talks with him about standing down from his leadership post.

“I had not given that thought. I was most concerned with what is best for the General Assembly as a whole,” she said. “I had not looked into any of the particulars of his charges.”

Liberty and Justice

Gov. Haslam, Rep. Todd Link Up: Todd Says He’s Sorry

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam saw Rep. Curry Todd at a charity golf tournament Monday and said Todd, who was arrested last week for drunken driving with a loaded weapon in his car, told him he made a mistake.

“He said, ‘I realize I made a bad mistake, and I’m sorry,'” Haslam said.

Todd, a Republican from Collierville, participated in a golf event Monday held by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Rep. Gary Odom. Harwell, a Republican, and Odom, a Democrat, both represent Nashville.

“I went out there to have breakfast, and Curry was part of the group playing golf,” Haslam said. “I asked him how he was doing. It was purely more of a personal conversation. We didn’t talk about the Legislature.

“I was obviously, like everybody else really, sorry to see that happen. It was a big mistake from Representative Todd that could have had dangerous consequences. I think he is aware of that as well.”

The governor addressed several issues with reporters after he spoke to the Governor’s Housing Summit in Franklin, including Todd’s arrest, the Occupy Wall Street protests, school vouchers and the matter of Tennesseans over 60 not having to have photos on their driver’s licenses.

Todd’s arrest, which has rekindled the debate over gun carry laws in the state since Todd was the sponsor of the bill to allow guns in bars, has begun to raise speculation about the course of the agenda under the Republican-controlled Legislature next year.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick had put Todd in the chairman’s role of a task force on firearms. But Todd reportedly told McCormick after the arrest he would vacate that position, and McCormick had been considering lowering the profile of the gun task force to focus more on the economy. McCormick reportedly has decided to keep the task force going, but with a diminished priority.

Todd announced Monday afternoon that he’s stepping down as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee “until this matter is resolved.”

“The Committee’s work is an important aspect of the General Assembly and I do not want my actions to distract from that,” read a short statement from Todd.

Haslam was asked about any potential impact on the legislative agenda next year, but he offered only clues to his own agenda, which seemed to be devoid of gun issues.

“If you look at what we proposed last year, and I think the bills we propose this year, there will be things focused again on jobs, education and things that are budget-related,” Haslam said. “I think you’ll continue to see our focus be there. That’s what it was last year.”

Haslam’s reference to “last year” was to the legislative session held in the first part of 2011. The Legislature will reconvene in January 2012.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey last week said he wanted to revisit the matter of why Tennesseans over 60 are allowed to have driver’s licenses without their photographs on them — one of the snags in the state’s new photo ID law for voting. Ramsey said he was looking for the justification of the 60-and-over exemption, and Haslam was asked if he would advocate addressing it as well.

“I guess I would want to hear the pros and cons of that,” Haslam said. “I assume the reason of that was just to make it easier, or maybe for some personal reasons for folks over 60. I don’t understand the reason why there was an exception there to begin with.

“I’m sure there is a good reason. I just don’t happen to know how that came to be.”

People have camped out in New York in an “Occupy Wall Street” protest, which has been copied in other cities, including Nashville, where protesters have gathered recently at Legislative Plaza. Haslam said he sees disgruntlement among the people.

“I think what you really have is a lot of dissatisfaction about the current condition of the country,” Haslam said. “You see that in how people feel about: How confident are you about the direction of the country? That’s come out in a lot of ways.

“Right now, their message is fairly — how should I describe it? — disorganized. There are a lot of different thoughts there. I think, at the root, people are saying, ‘We really don’t like the way things are going.’ My point back would be: Let’s talk about what we would do differently. Let’s talk about specific things that have caused us to be here and what we would do differently.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has said he plans to pursue a school voucher initiative for low-income students in Hamilton, Knox, Davidson and Shelby counties, which hold the state’s four largest cities. The Senate approved a similar measure in April, but the House Education Subcommittee sent the bill for further study.

Haslam said his administration is trying to decide how to approach the voucher issue and that there is no decision yet. He said the benefit is giving parents choice on where their children go to school but that there is a need to balance that against whether such an approach is helpful or harmful to existing public schools.

Haslam addressed the nation’s economic woes in his speech to a luncheon on housing held at the Marriott at Cool Springs.

“I don’t know how we could have a more challenging environment,” he told the crowd. “I would love to tell you I think that is going to get a lot better sometime soon. But I really don’t think that.

“As confident as I am long-term about the future of Tennessee, I think we are, like everyone else, caught in the grips of working our way out of some serious economic issues.”

Press Releases

Ignition Interlock Bill OK’d By Budget Subcommittee Under Shipley’s Guidance

Press Release from Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport; April 28, 2010:

(April 28, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) today successfully moved landmark ignition interlock legislation forward by moving it out of the Budget Subcommittee. The bill will require certain DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock system, in which users must ‘blow’ below a certain blood alcohol content (BAC) level to turn on their vehicle. Although the bill hit some initial roadblocks, Representative Shipley has been working with his colleagues from both sides of the aisle to hammer out a proposal.

“I am pleased that the ignition interlock legislation was approved by the House Budget Subcommittee. I have been working on this legislation for over a year, and I am committed to seeing it through to the end,” said Representative Shipley. “Ignition interlock devices have proven very successful in other states, and I am glad we are moving forward with it in Tennessee.”

After realizing there was not current legislation filed to address the need for our State to have interlock Rep. Shipley filed the bill last year. The bill requires anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .15 or higher to use the ignition interlock device (IID). Ignition interlock devices have been implemented around the country, and tests the driver’s BAC level. If it is above the set limit, the car will not start.

“This legislation is very important to me, and it was one of the first things I filed when I arrived on Capitol Hill,” said Representative Shipley. “So many people have spent a lot of time working on this issue, and I am grateful for the support and time that was put into it,” he continued. “This bill will save lives.”

Liberty and Justice

Legislators Move Toward Rewriting DUI Law

A bill that advanced in the state Senate this week would give some DUI offenders more driving options after a conviction.

Under an amendment to SB2965 brought by sponsor Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, some first-time, non-aggravated offenders would be given a choice of whether to get a restricted license or have an interlock device installed on their vehicle in order to legally drive.

Right now, such offenders can only get a restricted license, which places geographic restrictions on a where a person can drive, like just to and from work, school, and church. But if a person convicted of a DUI offense chooses to get an interlock rather than a restricted license, the offender would no longer face such driving restrictions.

The amendment would also require that the interlock be installed on only one vehicle operated by an offender, rather than on all vehicles owned or operated by an offender, as current law stipulates.

One goal of the bill, according to proponents, is to encourage more offenders to use interlock devices. In addition to making the streets safer, they say, funds from the increased use of breath-activated ignition devices would go to offset their costs to those whom the court has deemed indigent.

Offenders with multiple DUI violations, or first-time offenders who are considered “aggravated” — which includes getting caught with a blood-alcohol content of at least .15, driving drunk with a child in the vehicle, driving drunk and being involved in an accident, or violating the implied consent law — would still be required to have an interlock device.

In 2008, there were 21,033 DUI convictions in Tennessee, according to Roger Hutto, a representative from the Department of Safety. He said 13,000 were first-time offenders, and 3,877 of those eligible for a restricted license obtained one.

Some lawmakers on the committee indicated that the low number of people getting restricted licenses shows the current law is already hard to enforce and that there may not be much of an increase in the number of interlock users.

“The cost of a DUI is very, very high,” said Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson. “A lot of these people are just working people who haven’t got two nickels to rub together. The cost and consequence of a DUI are beyond their means.”

“You know what they are doing?” he continued. “They’re getting a restricted license – they’re driving anyway. People are going to do what they are going to do. Some of these people…it’s just an unfortunate circumstance they find themselves in and they’ve got kids to feed and a mortgage to pay.”

“It’s all on the honor system, anyway,” he added.

Beavers countered that people would choose to have the interlock device rather than a restricted license because of the fewer restrictions of having an interlock device under her amendment.

“I think that’s going to be an incentive for people to get the interlock, and we’re going to be safer on our streets,” she said. “The Department of Safety has told us this (legislation) will save 200-300 lives a year, and I think we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are those lives worth?’”

Beavers also downplayed the cost DUI offenders face after conviction.

“How much are these people spending on alcohol (already)?” she asked rhetorically. “What are they taking away from their families right now with the amount they have to drink every day to get up to a .15 (blood alcohol content)?”

Jackson said while that might be true for some people, “some just get caught coming home from the family reunion.”

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said the fees for the devices vary greatly because of the lack of a competitive market in the state, allowing some vendors to charge “what they want to charge.”

“There isn’t competition…until there’s a market presence by more than one vendor, and we’ve not been shown any proof to that effect,” he said. “While there are people who are in the business, there are people in the business with 20 locations, and there are people in the business with just one or two locations.”

Since current law requires that vendors charge a “reasonable” fee, Kyle suggested a cap or a fee structure.

In response, the committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, that would limit installation fees at $70 and monthly fees at $100.

That may be revisited by the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill is headed next, after Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, suggested the Legislature give the Department of Safety the authority to set the fees so the Legislature does not need to revisit the fees every year.

Action on the companion bill in the House was deferred by a subcommittee Wednesday morning.