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Norris: Haslam Budget Includes Funding for Additional TBI Forensic Scientists, Will ‘Expedite’ DNA Testing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

NASHVILLE –  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.

Norris: Juvenile Justice Reforms Working Better than Incarceration, More Can Be Done

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 29, 2015:

Study Shows Community-Based Supervision, Not State-Run Incarceration, Leads to More Success

AUSTIN, TX—Jan. 29, 2014—A first-of-its-kind study comparing Texas youth with nearly identical characteristics shows that juveniles under community-based supervision are far less likely to reoffend than those incarcerated in state correctional facilities, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M University, announced today.

CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms, which draws on an unprecedented dataset of 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years, shows youth incarcerated in state-run facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those that remain under supervision closer to home. When they do reoffend, youth released from state-secure facilities are three times more likely to commit a felony than youth under community supervision.

“The extraordinary data compiled for this study demonstrates convincingly how much better youth, who prior to the reforms would have been incarcerated, fare instead under community supervision,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris,  Immediate Past Chair of the  Council of State Governments. “It also finds that, for those youth placed under community supervision, there is still considerable room for improvement.”

The study is expected to have significant implications on the operations of state juvenile justice systems across the country, including Tennessee, which experienced the fourth-largest decrease (more than 70 percent) in its incarcerated youth population in its state correctional facilities between 1997 and 2011. Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services Juvenile Justice Division is already working with the CSG Justice Center to pilot recommendations to improve its data collection.

“We’ve seen remarkable reductions in the number of youth confined to state-secure facilities,” Norris said,” but, as Texas has shown, it’s important for us to understand why the decrease occurred and what is happening to those kids who have gone into community-based supervision.”

Since 2000, when the number of juveniles incarcerated was at a record high, the number of detained or incarcerated youth has decreased by more than 40 percent nationwide, according to 2013 figures, with some state populations declining by as much as 80 percent. Texas has helped contribute to that national drop.

After a number of abuses involving youth incarcerated in state facilities were uncovered, Texas state leaders enacted a series of reforms between 2007 and 2013. Texas leaders argued that many youth were incarcerated unnecessarily, and that supervising and providing treatment to kids close to home, instead of shipping them to far-off correctional facilities, would produce better individual outcomes and save taxpayer money without compromising public safety.

The result has been a dramatic decrease in the state-secure population, with a 65-percent reduction between 2007 and 2012, according to the study, cutting hundreds of millions in state spending and reinvesting a large portion of those savings into county-administered juvenile probation departments. During the same time period, juvenile arrests also declined by 33 percent, a significant drop compared to the 2-percent decline over the four years prior to 2007 reforms.

“Texas has demonstrated it is possible to achieve reductions in crime while reducing the number of youth incarcerated,” said Texas Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). “Prior to the reforms, youth were placed in facilities and essentially put on a path to the adult prison system.  They were exposed to violence, disconnected from their families, and offered few rehabilitation options. Now, we need to take additional steps to make sure we are doing everything we can to support youth under community supervision to help them become successful adults. This report points to a number of areas in which the state can better partner with local governments to achieve that goal.”

The combination of additional funding from the state and fewer youth under community supervision means counties are spending more than ever on each youth under community supervision. Nevertheless, recidivism rates for youth under community supervision have not improved measurably over the past several years, according to the study, which reviewed not only statewide data, but also analyzed outcomes among youth under community supervision in 30 individual Texas counties.

The report found substantial evidence that all counties could lower recidivism rates further by doing a better job applying the latest research, such as assigning youth to the right programs and appropriate levels of supervision.

“Neither poor matching of high risk youth with inappropriate programs, nor over-programming youth with minimal needs does much to reduce the likelihood of a young person reoffending, and could actually have the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of rearrest,” said Dr. Mark Lipsey, a national expert who directs the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University and advised the team on the study’s methodology, along with Dr. Edward P. Mulvey, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In a closer examination of eight large Texas counties, the report found 298 of the 300 programs mix youth of different risk levels. Between 34 percent and 90 percent of youth considered to have a low risk of reoffending were placed in one or more programs, despite only a small fraction of these youth having a high need for such programs.

“The findings in this study and the extensive dialogue we’ve had with the CSG Justice Center will provide support and guidance as we look to further improve operations and outcomes for juvenile justice youth served in the community,” said Randy Turner, Director of Juvenile Services in Tarrant County.

David Reilly, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said this report sets the stage for the state and Texas’s juvenile probation departments to partner together to continue make progress in juvenile justice.

“We’ve come a long way already,” he said. “Now, we need to continue to reduce the number of youth in state facilities and further refine our partnerships with local probation departments to achieve better outcomes for youth while continuing to maintain public safety.”

CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms was developed in partnership with Texas A&M University and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, added: “States across the nation are adopting better public policy by looking at the data, Texas is making communities safer and also saving money by keeping more youth under supervision closer to their local communities. Housing juveniles in a state facility is often the most expensive correctional option and generally fails to produce better outcomes.”

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ABOUT THE CSG JUSTICE CENTER
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. For more information about the Justice Center, visit www.csgjusticecenter.org.

House Will Get First Crack at Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Plan

It looks as if the Tennessee House of Representatives will take the lead on deliberations over Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand state Medicaid eligibility using federal Obamacare dollars.

The General Assembly is scheduled to go into an “extraordinary session” beginning Feb. 2 to approve or reject the Haslam administration’s “Insure Tennessee” plan, the centerpiece of which is a system of Affordable Care Act-financed vouchers for lower income residents to purchase private-sector health insurance.

The “vehicle” in the Legislature for discussing Insure Tennessee will likely be a “joint resolution” originating in the House that’ll be carried by the chamber’s GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

Before it gets to the full floor of the 99-member chamber, though, the joint resolution will have to win approval from several committees and subcommittees, among them the House Insurance and Banking Committee, the Health Committee, the Finance Committee and the Calendar and Rules Committee, a spokeswoman for Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told TNReport.

McCormick indicated this week that the vote-count within the House GOP caucus appears very tight at present. There are 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats in the House. Fifty votes are required to pass a measure out of the chamber.

Although the Senate will likely hold hearings and discussions about Insure Tennessee while the resolution is working its way through the House, upper-chamber Republican leaders said Senate committee-votes won’t be taken until after — and only if — the resolution clears the House.

“If it fails in the first House sub(committee), we’re done,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who presides over the Senate, told majority-party lawmakers during a caucus meeting Thursday afternoon.

Both Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris estimate that as many as three-quarters of their caucus remains undecided on the Haslam plan. Among them are Jack Johnson of Franklin and Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, who chair powerful committees that will likely handle the resolution.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate by a tally of 28-5. It takes 17 votes to pass a measure in the Senate.

“We have members who are outspokenly opposed to the proposal,” Norris said at the Senate GOP caucus gathering. “There are other members here supportive of it. But most members are just in the middle with open minds.”

Norris, who has himself voiced reservations about Haslam’s plan, said he’s hopeful there’s a full and robust discussion about all facets of the proposal. He described Insure Tennessee as “very complicated” in the way it touches on numerous aspects of state and federal law, the Internal Revenue Code and previous developments in the history of TennCare, the state’s program for administering the federal Medicaid system.

“All those things interrelate,” said Norris, a lawyer from Collierville. “Regardless of which side of the issue you may find yourself on, all these issues could be very important, whether you are against it, whether you are for it or whether you are unsure which way to go.”

He added, “What we are trying to do is lay out a timely and orderly process to get everyone through it in the best way possible, so that you can truly say that you are representing your constituents.”

Norris said one of the goals is to avoid the accusation of passing legislation “and not knowing what is in it.”

“Nobody wants to be in that situation,” he said.

Insure Tennessee has been offered by the administration as a two-year pilot program, and it includes incentives for healthier lifestyles. It is designed to enable the state to draw down Medicaid expansion funding through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover people making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — which could translate to more than 450,000 potentially eligible Tennesseans.

Legislature Gearing Up for Tax Reform Debate

Tennessee Republicans are flush with even more power in the General Assembly after the 2014 general election, and members of the expanded supermajorities in both dens of the statehouse are sure that one thing’s for certain: there’s no time like the present to talk about tax cuts.

There’s some disagreement, though, about which ones to go after first.

The two biggest targets are the Hall tax on investment earnings and Tennessee’s highest-in-the-country sales tax.

While many of the Volunteer State’s conservative Republicans favor doing away with the Hall tax, some of the party’s legislative leadership have instead made populist arguments in favor chipping away at the state’s sales tax. Over the past several years since losing majority-party status, that’s been a priority as well for Democrats, who charge the tax hits Tennessee’s poor the hardest. And as pitiful as their numbers are in the Legislature, Democrats could play a role in helping shape the discussion, particularly in the House.

While some Republicans have in the past balked at discussing cuts to the state’s general sales tax — or the tax on food — due to fears that its reduction would be a potential step toward enacting a state income tax, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he hopes a recently passed constitutional ban on taxing Tennesseans’ income would change the discussion.

“Every time since I’ve been here we’ve tried to have a discussion about the state’s revenue and expenses, people say ‘Oh, it’s Trojan Horse for the income tax,'” the Collierville Republican told reporters last week. However, the overwhelming passage of Amendment 3 on Nov. 4, a change in the Tennessee Constitution that expressly prohibits the enactment of income taxes at the state or local level, “should silence those critics,” said Norris.

In the wake of two-thirds of Tennessee voters approving the amendment, Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed legislation earlier this month aimed at, over the next three years, entirely phasing out the Hall Income tax — a six percent tax on income received from investments over $1250 a year for individuals making more than $33,000 a year.

In response, Norris and state Rep.Gerald McCormick — the majority leaders in both legislative chambers, who routinely carry legislation for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — filed a proposal to reduce the state sales tax from 7 percent to 6.75 percent.

Getting rid of the Hall Tax would cut about $260 million from the annual budget. Likewise, McCormick told the Times Free Press, the proposed sales tax cut would reduce annual state revenue by about the same.

Norris referred to his proposal as one of “the bookends” of the greater tax reform discussion.

“The bill was filed, so I filed a bill. Do you want to cut $260 million in revenue for these people, or $260 million revenue for all people? It sort of frames the issue,” Norris said last week.

But while two of the state’s top fiscal conservative groups generally support reducing the tax burden of all Tennesseans’, they’re standing firm on their particular support for specifically doing away with the the Hall tax first — and they say that ought to be lawmakers’ first priority.

Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity is “committed to assisting in the repeal of the Hall Income Tax,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Tori Venable. “Repealing this regressive tax will help our state as a whole, not just those who will benefit from the tax cut. The assurance of the Hall Income Tax repeal will help our state recruit more businesses, increasing job growth and economic output,” she wrote in an email to TNReport.

Lindsay Boyd, policy director for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a 10-year-old Nashville-based free-market think tank, told TNReport via email that, first and foremost, the Hall Tax has to go. It “deters Tennessee families from settling in our state and small business entrepreneurs from investing in our economy,” Boyd said. She added that chipping away at the sales tax is a good idea, but it’s not going to show immediate results and definitely shouldn’t detract from the Hall tax discussion.

“A minuscule cut to the sales tax, as proposed by Rep. McCormick and Sen. Norris, may be a discussion we should resume once we free Tennesseans from the worry of having their hard earned dollars punitively and heftily taxed by the Hall tax on investment income- remembering that 40 percent of those who pay the Hall income tax earn less than $50,000 per year,” Boyd said.

Last session’s House GOP Caucus chairman, Franklin Rep. Glen Casada, told TNReport he favors prioritizing Hall tax elimination. Eliminating it as quickly as possible is an “excellent idea,” he said, because it would attract senior citizens to the state.

“It’s a wise, prudent financial move,” said Casada,who added that it’s unfair to ding people who’ve “played by the rules” and have saved money for retirement — and are not relying on government assistance.

Casada said he favors reducing taxes in general — but wants to begin with getting rid of the Hall tax, “and then start cutting sales tax on food.”

For an alternative perspective — or another tax-cutting idea to add to the mix — look no further than the House majority leader.

McCormick told TNReport this week that he thinks franchise and excise taxes should be looked at too. “I just think we need to look at all of them at the same time, and then decide if we can afford to cut taxes who we want to cut them for,” he said.

McCormick added that he was concerned cutting the Hall tax would “disproportionately” benefit higher income Tennesseans. The Legislature should “look at something that might also help those that are on the bottom rungs of the income levels.”

Haslam has suggested any legislators interested in cutting their constituents taxes should also be looking for cuts to make in state expenses. “I believe in cutting taxes. We’ve cut taxes since we’ve been here. We also believe in balancing the budget. And I think it’s important when you’re talking making any changes to revenue in the state, what are the commensurate changes you’re going to make in the expense structure as well?” Haslam said earlier this month.

Norris: Congressional Reauthorization of Debbie Smith ‘Critical’ to Processing Rape Kit Backlog

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 19, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN, September 19, 2014 – – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said today congressional reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act will be of tremendous help to accurately assess and reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence from open rape cases in Tennessee. The U.S. Senate passed the bill yesterday, which had already received approval in the House of Representatives, sending it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

“The funds provided through the Debbie Smith Act are essential in providing state and local governments with the resources to work through the backlog of evidence in untested rape kits,” said Senator Norris, who is Chairman of the Council of State Governments. “That is the first step in getting the perpetrators off the street so that justice can be served for the victims and survivors. I appreciate our congressional leaders for supporting this legislation which will greatly help in our efforts to identify and prosecute offenders in Tennessee.”

Norris sponsored legislation this year requiring all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The reporting of untested kits is required under the new federal act.

“With this report, we are already positioned to move forward in our application for funds after the bill is signed by the President,” added Norris. “DNA evidence has revolutionized the way we both apprehend and prosecute rape cases. Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.”

The TBI report showed 44 police agencies had a combined total of 9,062 untested rape kits statewide. The highest number was 6,942 by the Memphis Police Department, followed by 394 untested kits at the Knoxville Police Department, 249 at the Jackson Police Department, 200 at the Metro Nashville Police Department, 179 at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, 126 at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, 104 at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and 99 at the Chattanooga Police Department.

Norris also passed major legislation this year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. The new law pertains to acts committed on or after July 1, 2014 or offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired.

“We made significant progress this year in working to identify rapists and bring them to justice, as well as providing the tools for law enforcement to prosecute cold cases. This should help in our efforts to provide justice for the victims of this heinous crime,” he concluded.

Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.

Norris Begins Term as Chair of Council of State Governments

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; December 10, 2013:

Outlines “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative focusing on jobs and education

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began his term as Chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG) this week by outlining the Chairman’s 2014 initiative, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The initiative focuses on helping states boost their workforce development and education efforts. Addressing the organization’s Eastern Regional meeting in Puerto Rico, Norris said during his term of office, CSG will also concentrate on four related areas which often overshadow employment needs: veterans’ affairs, hunger, children in poverty and criminal justice.

“It’s difficult for our guidance counselors and local workforce development professionals to do their jobs when the folks who need work have so many related issues that need addressing first,” said Chairman Norris. “Like a mother looking for work without the resources to provide care for her children while she’s away — or the veteran with plenty of experience but no certificate or degree — or someone with a criminal record for a non-violent offense that disqualifies them from employment. CSG can provide the expertise to help states with best practices designed to clear pathways for those anxious to join America’s workforce.”

“There is significant demand right now by companies looking for qualified workers, and states are finding it difficult to meet the demand. The jobs are there, but the skills are lacking,” said Norris, who was recently appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. Norris was the prime sponsor of Tennessee’s LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) signed into law in April. LEAP lays the foundation for the cooperative effort of government, higher education and businesses looking for skilled workers by providing on-the-job training.

CSG represents all three branches of state government and state chief executives are fundamental to CSG’s success. Norris succeeds Senator Gary Stevens of Alaska at CSG. Senator Carl Marcellino of New York is Chair-Elect. Serving as a President of CSG with Norris as Chairman will be West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. He succeeds Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

“As Chair, it will be my goal to keep CSG the place to be; the place to champion state government to advance the common good,” said Norris.

CSG has regional offices in New York, Chicago, Sacramento and Atlanta with headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky. Norris chaired the Southern Region in 2011 and has served on CSG’s Executive Committee since 2007.

TN Gov’t Leaders Recognized Nationally with Awards, Leadership Positions

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 30, 2013:

Tennessee’s state government leaders have gained national acclaim recently being elected or recognized for several national leadership roles. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Treasurer David Lillard have all been elected to bi-partisan national leadership positions, while Speaker of the House of Representatives Beth Harwell recently received a prestigious award by the Women in Numbers organization.

“Tennessee has several rising stars who are now in key positions of national leadership,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R-Thompson Station). “This is a tremendous compliment to the caliber of men and women that we have serving the citizens of this state in the Tennessee General Assembly and in our state government.”

The positions include:

  • Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey was elected to the Board of Directors of the bi-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) that serves legislators and staffs nationwide with research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues. Ramsey also serves on the Republican Lt. Governors Association Board (RLGA) and the Legislative Leaders Advisory Board of GOPAC.
  • Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris was elected Chairman of the non-partisan Council of State Governments (CSG) which serves all three branches of government in 50 states and Puerto Rico with international affiliates in the Provincial and Federal governments of Canada. CSG fosters and encourages intergovernmental cooperation among its member states.
  • Secretary of State Tre Hargett is President of the National Association of State Secretaries (NASS). The group, which is the oldest, nonpartisan professional organization for public officials, serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy.
  • Treasurer David Lillard was elected to the Executive Committee of the bi-partisan National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers (NASACT), which is an organization for state officials who deal with the financial management of state government.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Beth Harwell was honored with a national “Trailblazer Award” by a nonpartisan group’s Tennessee chapter that encourages more women to go into politics. Harwell is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee.

“Tennessee’s sound financial footing and reputation for being a well-managed state has been recognized by numerous national organizations,” added Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R- Murfreesboro). “We believe we have the finest Treasurer, Secretary of State and Comptroller with Justin Wilson in the nation. Obviously, other states’ leaders recognize this as well. Speaker Harwell, Lt. Governor Ramsey and Leader Norris have also represented Tennessee extremely well in national roles. I am very proud to work alongside them in the General Assembly.”

Norris Named Chair of Council of State Gov’ts

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; Sept. 23, 2013:

(NASHVILLE) — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was elected Chairman of the national Council of State Governments (CSG) at the group’s 80th annual meeting this weekend in Kansas City, MO. CSG is a bipartisan professional association serving all three branches of government in 50 states and Puerto Rico. International affiliates include the Provincial and Federal governments of Canada.

Norris is the first Tennessean elected to the national leadership post.

“It is an honor to lead this organization and continue the tremendous work that it has done throughout the United States and North America,” said Norris, who will begin the new post in December. “CSG offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships. I look forward to working with my colleagues in finding new solutions to the many challenges we face.”

Founded in 1933, CSG champions excellence in state government. CSG’s region-based forum fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy as states’ advocates within our federal system of government. The organization is based in Lexington, Kentucky and also has an office in Washington, D.C. It has regional offices in Atlanta, New York City, Chicago and Sacramento. Norris served as Chairman of the Southern Region in 2010-2011.

Norris is an attorney with the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP. He has served in the Tennessee Senate since 2000 and as Senate Majority Leader since 2007.

Haslam Signs Bill Specifying Definition of ‘Criminal Gang Offense’

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; June 26, 2013:

MEMPHIS – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing in Memphis for legislation that rewrites and simplifies the criminal gang offense enhanced punishment law.

Gang-related crimes are of increasing concern across Tennessee, in the state’s rural and urban communities, and the bill, HB 196/SB 202, changes the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses that will make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence.

“The good news is the number of reported violent crimes in Tennessee is decreasing. Yet, we continue to have one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation,” Haslam said. “This legislation gives prosecutors another tool to fight criminal gang activity and help make Tennessee safer.”

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, through May of this year murders are down almost 22 percent, robberies have decreased almost 17 percent, and aggravated assaults have declined more than 20 percent compared to 2010.

The offenses included in the legislation are crimes that Tennessee communities combat every day, such as robbery, carjacking, and drug possession with intent to sell, among others. Under this new law, if one of the defined offenses is committed, prosecutors must also prove the defendant committed the crime as a part of a criminal gang and must prove the defendant is a member of the criminal gang to enhance the sentence.

The gang enhanced-sentencing bill is one of several pieces of legislation introduced by the administration to address the challenge of gang violence in Tennessee. Other laws enacted since 2011 create tougher sentences for certain types of crimes committed by three or more acting in concert, tougher sentences for convicted felons who persist in illegally possessing guns, and mandatory sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders where physical injury is involved.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and State Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Hickory Withe) sponsored the legislation in the General Assembly.

Norris Reelected TACIR Chairman

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 20, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), June 20, 2013 — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reelected Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). The election took place during a two-day meeting of the commission in Nashville on June 19 and 20. Norris has served as Chairman since 2009 and begins his third two-year term.

“I appreciate the confidence that the members have placed in me to serve another term in this leadership role, ” said Senator Norris. “I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships between state, municipal and county governments and to work on solutions to substantive issues that we face together as Tennesseans.”

The General Assembly approved legislation this year directing TACIR to conduct a comprehensive study on annexation and make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve the process statewide. Their report is due in January. “This study requires in-depth research by the staff and thoughtful consideration by the members of the commission. I am pleased to continue to lead TACIR as we look into this issue as well as many others.”

TACIR began in 1978 after legislative findings indicated the need for a permanent intergovernmental body to study and take action on questions of organizational patterns, powers, functions, and relationships among federal, state and local governments. The 25-member group is made up of public officials from state, county and municipal governments as well as private citizens. Mayor Tom Roland of Cleveland, TN, was reelected to serve as Vice-Chairman.

Senator Norris has served as Tennessee’s Senate Majority Leader since 2007. He is Chair-elect of the Council of State Governments, a national organization which also fosters and encourages intergovernmental cooperation.