Liberty and Justice News

Senate Panel Probing Juvenile Sex-Offender Bill

A state Senate committee is hoping to put the final touches next week on a requirement to add juveniles convicted of certain sex crimes to Tennessee’s adult sex-offender registry.

Sen. Diane Black, a Gallatin Republican, is sponsoring the bill — which aims at making the state hew to a 2006 federal mandate handed down by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Bush — and told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she’d like to only add the most violent teen offenders to the registry.

Those targeted include 14 to 18-year-olds convicted of rape, rape of a child under 13 — if there is more than a four-year age difference between the offender and the victim — as well as aggravated rape of a child three years old or younger and aggravated sexual battery in cases where force or coercion with a weapon was involved in the crime.

Juvenile offenders added to the registry would have to be judged by a mental health professional as being at a “high risk” of re-offending.

Under Black’s version of the bill, offenders would be listed on the registry for 25 years. If an offender stays within substantial compliance with any requirements or restrictions placed on them by the court system, the individual can ask to be removed from the list when they turn 19. Those not in full compliance would have to wait an extra five years before requesting to be taken off the registry.

Tennessee’s online sex offender registry receives about 10,000 visits per day, said Black, quoting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. More than 32 states have some type of juvenile sex offender registry in place, she said.

“Admittedly, it is an extremely sensitive issue,” said Black. “It would give an opportunity for parents and other caregivers of small children to make sure that, as they have their children exposed to these offenders, that they are given knowledge that these are offenders that are the most serious offenders and have a high risk of re-offending.”

“The intent is to protect the innocent children,” she continued. “When a child is perpetrated, we know the kinds of results of what will happen with that child for the rest of their life. We are protecting the innocent. The purpose of this is not to punish the offender because there is nothing in (the bill) that will prevent them from getting rehabilitation. We want them to get rehabilitation.”

Several senators on the panel expressed reservations about the bill.

“Not all of us sit around and peruse registries all the time, I promise you,” Memphis Democrat Beverly Marrero told Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley, who was testifying in favor of the bill. “It looks like you’re trying to set up people for a sort of a paranoia where people are going out everyday and going on the internet and trying to find out how many sex offenders are in their neighborhood and if they’re walking down their street.”

If people are not obsessing with the adult sex offender registry, they won’t be when the registry adds teen sex offenders, Whitley said.

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, said he supports the new registry but is worried about some of the particulars.

“I see cases where this is not serving the public’s interest, but it’s hurting the child,” he said. “There’s no discretion with the court…and that’s the hallmark of juvenile court. This is tying the judge’s hands…to come up with the appropriate remedy.”

The bill, Jackson said, might create a system that “sweeps all of the children in rather than weigh in some mitigating factors.”

Black said only around one percent of juvenile sex offenses covered by the bill are now sent to adult court.

“These juvenile judges are not sending these most serious offenses…to the adult court,” she said.

A number of people who testified about the legislation repeated much of what they said earlier this legislative session when House committees were considering the change in law. Legislation in the House has been advancing, but it was recently put on hold until the budget situation is resolved.

Some senators who support the bill voiced concerns Thursday about the measure’s particulars.

Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, worried that a mental health professional’s report to a judge could override the discretion of that judge. Relying on a mental health professionals’ decision takes power away from judges, he said, adding that a decision as to whether a juvenile ends up on the registry become somewhat “predetermined.”

He also questioned whether an offender could appeal the finding of the mental health professional and whether a lawyer representing an offender would have to prioritize fighting the alleged crime against the risk of being a re-offender.

“Should we have a separate and distinct hearing about whether the person is high risk?” asked Bunch.

The committee later agreed to amendments by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, designed to put more of the risk-determination decision-making authority back in the hands of judges.

Bunch also criticized the bill’s definition of “mental health professional,” because it included such professions as a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed marriage and family therapist.

About five percent of minors in the 14-18 age-range would be affected by the legislation, Black said — though she also acknowledged those estimates might be low.

The bill is scheduled to come up for more discussion before the Judiciary committee Wednesday.

Press Releases

TNGOP Chair: Rep. Gordon Puts Pelosi & Obama Before Tennesseans on Health Reform

Press Release From the Tennessee Republican Party, March 19, 2010:

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee Republican Party Chris Devaney issued the following statement after retiring Tennessee Democrat Congressman Bart Gordon announced he is going to support the Obama/Pelosi/Reid government takeover of health care:

“Retiring from Congress doesn’t give Rep. Gordon an excuse to abandon his constituents,” said Devaney. “Recent polling here in our state suggests that the majority of Tennesseans want Congress to start over on health care. Tennessee voters don’t want a government takeover of health care that is going to raise premiums, slash Medicare benefits, and provide for taxpayer-funded abortions. I believe that Rep. Gordon’s decision to retire was the right one, but I hope he is aware his support of health care is going to be harmful to any Democrat who might be thinking of running in the Sixth Congressional District.”

A Spring 2010 poll released by Middle Tennessee State University reported the following findings:

Health reform: Most Tennesseans want a do-over

When asked what Congress should do next on health reform, a majority of Tennesseans, 53 percent, say Congress should start on a new bill. Twenty-two percent say Congress should pass a bill similar those the House and Senate have passed. Only sixteen percent say Congress should stop working on health reform altogether…

Most of Tennessee’s independents, 63 percent, say Congress should start work on a new health reform bill, followed by 19 percent who say something like the current bills should be passed, and 18 percent who say Congress should just stop working on health reform.

Press Releases

Ramsey Wants House To Vote On Anti-Healthcare Mandate Bill

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, March 19, 2010:

Bill Would Protect Tennesseans From Federal Action

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today called on a House committee to approve Senate passed legislation which protects the freedom of Tennesseans to make their own health care choices. The Tennessee Health Freedom Act would protect a citizen’s right to participate or not in any healthcare system and would prohibit the federal government from imposing fines on that person’s decision. The move comes two days before a congressional vote on healthcare legislation which would punish those who choose not to purchase a government-approved health plan.

“No legislation should ever take from Americans their right to control their own medical affairs,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The federal government is out of control and there is no greater example of this than the current healthcare debacle. The state House of Representatives must pass the Tennessee Health Freedom Act to protect our citizens from federal overreaching.”

The legislation would still allow individuals the option to participate in a federal program. The bill, set to be heard Wednesday in the House Industrial Impact subcommittee, acknowledges the right of Tennesseans to refuse to participate in a government-run health insurance program. It also calls on the state’s Attorney General to take action in the defense or prosecution of rights protected under the legislation.

On the web:

Press Releases

Ramsey Asks AG Cooper to Research Options for Blocking Federal Health Care Legislation

Letter from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, 5 Jan. 2010:

Dear General Cooper:

As you are aware, on December 24th the United States Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590). As publicly acknowledged by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the critical sixtieth vote in favor of passage was cast by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson in exchange for inclusion of a provision within H.R. 3590 that requires the federal government to hold the State of Nebraska harmless from increased costs arising from the proposed Medicaid expansion. H.R. 3590 does not require the federal government to pick-up the full cost of the proposed expansion of Medicaid in any other state. The so-called “Nebraska Deal” clearly grants special benefits to a single state purely for the purpose of political expediency. Taxpayers in all other states will be required to annually pay millions of dollars to offset increased Medicaid costs. In defending the “Nebraska Deal,” no one has suggested any rational basis for favoring Nebraska taxpayers over taxpayers in Tennessee or any other state.

Please share your expertise and insights with regard to the following question:

Does any provision within the United States Constitution or other federal law provide a legal basis by which the State of Tennessee and other states could seek judicial intervention to block implementation of H.R. 3590 or, alternatively, to ensure that the “Nebraska Deal” is extended to the other states?

I have read your public comments wishing to defer the issue until legislation is finalized but the General Assembly must be proactive in dealing with what Governor Bredesen has called “the mother of all unfunded mandates.” I join Governor Bredesen in his outrage at the $1.2 billion price tag of this legislation in a year when we are preparing to cut up to $1.5 billion from the state budget.

While it is admirable that the Governor has contacted our federal officials on this issue, it is the duty of the state Attorney General to defend Tennessee against unconstitutional dictates from the federal government. All I ask is that you share your expertise and insights regarding the above question. We must begin to prepare for the harsh impact of either the House or Senate bill on Tennesseans. As Governor Bredesen has not ruled out asking that Tennessee join other states in challenging the proposed legislation, there is no reason to wait.

A bipartisan group of state elected officials have publicly stated that the “Nebraska Deal” is bad policy, excessive and are concerned about its implementation. It is time for the Attorney General’s office to offer preliminary legal options to the legislature as to how we may best protect Tennessee citizens from this unfair and quite possibly unconstitutional federal action.

If there are questions or if additional information is required, then please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.

I look forward to discussing these matters with you in the near future.


Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey