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Kelsey Files Bill to Offer ‘Opportunity Scholarships’ with a Local Control Provision

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 16, 2015:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 16, 2015  – State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), filed legislation yesterday afternoon to create Opportunity Scholarships with a new “Local Control” provision. Senate Bill 122 mirrors Gov. Haslam’s “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act” that passed the Senate last year with the addition of a new “Local Control” provision.

“All children deserve the chance for a quality education,” said Sen. Kelsey.  “This bill will focus on low-income children but will give local school boards more control in how to best design the scholarships for their students.”

As in the governor’s bill, Opportunity Scholarships of roughly $6,500 would be offered to low-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice. The scholarships would be offered to all students eligible for free and reduced price lunch in schools performing in the bottom 5% of schools in the state. Free and reduced price lunch is offered to families making up to $44,000 annually for a family of four.

The scholarship program would be capped at 5,000 students in year one, 7,500 in year two, 10,000 in year three, and 20,000 in year four and thereafter.   If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5% of schools is located.

The new local control provision would allow any local school board and county commission to opt into the program if it wants to. Local control would include the option to waive the low-income requirement. The “Local Control” provision could help residents in fast-growing counties save millions in property taxes. Rather than building a new $25 million school every two years, counties could instead send some new students into the Opportunity Scholarship program. A recent study by the Friedman Foundation estimates the bill could save Williamson County $319 million over the next five years and prevent a potential property tax rate hike of 6 to 7%.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” added Kelsey, who first introduced the idea in the Tennessee legislature ten years ago.

Last year, the bill passed the Senate as well as the House Education Committee before getting stuck in the House Finance Committee. New committee assignments for the next two years will be announced in the General Assembly tomorrow.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He served as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the last General Assembly.

Ketron, Sargent File Bill to Boost Human Trafficking Training for Police

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 16, 2015:

NASHVILLE —  State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) have filed legislation to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking in Tennessee.  The bill calls on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to implement courses, which will also include information to help first responders and caseworkers find services to assist victims of the crime.

“We have seen far too many cases of human trafficking in Tennessee,” said Senator Ketron.  “Our state has made great gains in combatting human trafficking, but we still have a lot of work to do.  Training is essential to help us identify and prosecute this crime, as well as assist the victims.”

The General Assembly passed a series of bills addressing human trafficking after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 78 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders.  A follow-up to the report was released last year which showed that these statistics may be understated because first responders have not been trained to identify the crime.  The original report also included a survey from top law enforcement, caseworkers and court officials who deal with human trafficking cases which revealed that 79% felt that their agencies were not adequately trained to recognize and identify the crime.

“Training law enforcement and other first responders in the identification and recognition of human trafficking victims is a high priority,” added Representative Sargent.  “Unless victims are identified, they cannot be rescued or restored and those who are responsible will continue their criminal operations.  That is why is so important that we have this training in Tennessee to truly address this problem.”

Senate Bill 16 calls for the training courses to be implemented by January 1, 2016 and includes the hiring of four additional TBI special agents.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) who has sponsored numerous bills strengthening Tennessee’s human trafficking laws.

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.

TN Senate Holds Hearings on Criminal Justice Reform

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 16, 2014: 

(NASHVILLE, TN), September 16, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is presiding over hearings today on reforming the criminal justice system in Tennessee.

“We must keep the public safe and hold offenders accountable in a way that protects taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Kelsey. “Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated the criminal justice system in over twenty years. We can learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Kelsey, is currently conducting hearings on criminal justice reform during its annual summer study committee. The subjects of the session are: 1) How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) What other states have done, and 3) Suggested changes for Tennessee. Expert witnesses and Tennessee participants are discussing such topics as truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections, and reducing recidivism rates.

The scheduled participants for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Deputy Tennessee Attorney General Amy Tarkington
  • 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
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • John Summers, Executive Director, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • James Musice, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • 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
  • Christopher Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • 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
  • Charles 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.

Ketron Receives Nat’l Security Award for Work to Prevent Homegrown Terrorism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2014 – – State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) will be awarded the National Security Eagle Award by ACT! for America at an event tonight in Washington DC. Ketron is set to receive the national honor at the organization’s fifth annual national conference which will be attended by members from 875 chapters from across the nation, in addition to 9-11 family members and American wounded warriors.

ACT! for America is the nation’s largest national security movement with over 280,000 active grassroots members from various political parties and religions. It is an issues advocacy organization dedicated to effectively organizing and mobilizing the most powerful grassroots citizen action network in America.

Ketron sponsored Tennessee’s “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” to cut off the support for terrorists who are planning to commit acts in Tennessee and curb the incidence of homegrown terrorism. He filed the bill in the wake of homegrown terrorist shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas, which targeted U.S. soldiers.

Recently it was reported that as many as 300 Americans are fighting alongside ISIS, the most radical group of jihadists who claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Homegrown terrorism remains a tremendous threat to the U.S.,” said Senator Ketron. “Recent developments continue to show that this threat is not only real, but can happen in any state, any town and any community. I appreciate this recognition from ACT! and will continue to work for the safety and security of our citizens. The 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack should continue to serve as a reminder to all Americans that we can never let our guard down as there are those who are willing to hide behind innocent citizens to reign down terror on this nation.”

Ketron will also attend a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Pentagon’s 9-11 Memorial on Friday.

Kelsey Again Urges TN AG to Join in Lawsuit Against Obamacare

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 22, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) July 22, 2014 – In light of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today in the case of Halbig v. Burwell, Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) renewed his call to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper to join in the lawsuit against ObamaCare. The decision prohibited the IRS from penalizing certain employers in states like Tennessee that did not set up a state-run health exchange. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today created a split among the circuits by issuing an opposite decision.

“Since January of this year, I have been urging our attorney general to challenge the poorly drafted Obamacare law. Attorneys General in other states are successfully fighting back against federal government overreach while ours is remaining silent.”

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

Kelsey: Bebb Resignation Evidence of ‘Need for Further Judicial Reform’

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

(NASHVILLE, TN) June 30, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today issued the following statement regarding the resignation effective today of Steve Bebb, District Attorney for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

“I’m glad that General Bebb finally decided to step down today. This resignation officially ends the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation of General Bebb. The fact that he resigned only two months early and still receives full benefits shows the need for further judicial reform. Tennessee needs one person—the attorney general—to prosecute acts of public corruption, and that one person needs to be held accountable directly to the people.”

Senator Kelsey elaborated further on these comments in a guest column published today in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, available at the following link:

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/jun/30/the-need-for-reforms/?opinioncolumns

Upcoming UAW Vote at VW Concerns TN Senate Labor, Commerce Cmte Heads

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn, (February 10, 2014) — The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Tennessee’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee today expressed concern regarding the United Auto Workers (UAW) upcoming vote in Chattanooga, saying a vote for organized labor would harm Tennessee’s reputation as a business-friendly state and reverse the state’s recent progress in automobile-related job growth.

Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Vice-Chairman Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said the General Assembly has worked in concert with Governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam for the past several years to move forward policies to support Tennessee’s competitive standing in growing and expanding new and better paying jobs in the state. The lawmakers said that pending decisions of VW employees are of statewide interest at a pivotal time when Tennessee stands currently as a national leader in job creation.

“We greatly value our auto workers, both in Middle Tennessee and in Southeast Tennessee,” said Senator Johnson, a businessman whose legislative district is home to the General Motors Spring Hill plant and Nissan’s North America headquarters.

“Our communities are very similar with great neighborhoods, schools that focus on achievement and a local economy that is envied by many. The automotive industry is a very important part of the quality of life we enjoy.” “As Chattanooga workers vote on the United Auto Workers presence, it is a decision that transcends just one community,” he added. “There is tremendous competition for job growth among states. A vote for organized labor would impede our daily efforts to benefit Tennessee families as we compete nationally in job growth. I ask that Chattanooga lead to honor Tennessee’s competitive spirit so we can continue moving our state’s job growth forward. Chattanooga workers, we don’t need the UAW in our state.”

“In business, reputation means a lot,” added Senator Green, who is a practicing physician and businessman who represents the more rural Clarksville region that competes with industry across the state-line of Kentucky. “Tennessee has developed a reputation of a top location for families and businesses because of the lower cost of living, commitment to an educated workforce and folks keeping more of our wages by holding taxes low.”

“Volkswagen chose our state and your community for important reasons: Chattanooga workers have a great reputation of a great work ethic and make an excellent product. That reputation has been yours without the United Auto Workers,” he continued. “The free market that VW chose in our state produces competition, empowers employees far more than a labor union, and keeps bringing jobs to Tennessee.” The United Auto Workers vote is scheduled for Wednesday, February 12 through Friday, February 14 at the Volkswagen site in Chattanooga.

Beavers Announces Bill to Restrict Electronic Surveillance by Police

Press release from the Senate Republican Caucus; December 16, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) announced today she will introduce legislation to prohibit state and local police agencies from accessing or retrieving the location data of residents by surveillance of an electronic device without a court warrant. Beavers said the bill will help ensure government does not take advantage of technological advances in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices to spy without appropriate judicial oversight.

“Government and law enforcement agencies should not be able to tap into your cell phone location or gain access to electronically stored data without a warrant approved by a judge,” said Senator Beavers. “We cannot let technological advances sidestep the Fourth Amendment. This protection is a very important part of the checks and balances put into place by our forefathers to keep government from overstepping its boundaries.”

Law enforcement made 1.1 million requests to wireless carriers for cellphone data information in 2012 according to a report delivered to Congress earlier this month. The three largest wireless companies, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon reported they have received 56,400 “emergency” requests from police departments which did not have a warrant or court order. One company reported their requests from police have doubled in the past five years.

In addition, public records obtained by USA Today and Gannett reveal that about one in four law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have used “tower dumps.” This is a surveillance tactic which covers multiple towers and wireless providers to give police a multitude of electronic data about a targeted cell phone user. The digital dragnets also capture information on other persons using wireless devices in the area who are not suspected of wrongdoing.

Beavers said her electronic privacy bill will be modeled after one passed in Montana which allows exceptions only in order to respond to a possible life-threatening situation, an emergency call by the user or when a device is reported as stolen, unless there is informed consent by the owner.

“Citizens must be protected from unreasonable government surveillance,” added Beavers. “This legislation is a big step forward in securing our Constitutional freedoms.”

Senator Beavers represents Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Macon, Smith and Wilson Counties in District 17 in the Tennessee Senate.

Legislation Requiring Drug Testing of Judges Proposed

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; November 15, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) said today they will introduce legislation which calls for drug testing all Tennessee judges. McNally made the announcement after meeting yesterday with Knox County Prosecutor Leland Price and the families of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. Christian and Newsom were raped, tortured and murdered by Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman seven years ago.

“For a family to have to go through one trial where it involves the torturous murder of their loved one is far too painful for anyone to endure,” said Senator McNally. “But, to have to go through two trials is inconceivable and inexcusable. This legislation addresses this so that no one will have to endure this kind of lengthy and excruciatingly painful court process again due to drug abuse by a judge.”

The families of Newsome and Christian had to endure two painful trials as a result of the misconduct of Judge Richard Baumgartner, who pleaded guilty to illegally taking narcotics during the first trial of the convicted murderers in which he presided. As a result of Baumgartner’s plea, the four defendants who had previously been found guilty, were retried and convicted again.

“I think it’s important that our citizens have confidence in our justice system,” said Representative Haynes. “It is pretty clear after what these two families have gone through that there are issues that need to be addressed.”

McNally said he also plans to introduce legislation which provides for harsher punishment for ethical misconduct by officers of the court that lie about crime victims in order to advance their case.

“Attorney are officers of the court and should not be allowed to lie in order to advance their case at the expense of the victim,” added McNally. “To do so amounts to a second crime against the victims and their families and should be treated as such.”

McNally said both pieces of legislation are still in the drafting stages.

“I am appalled at what these victims and their families endured during these trials,” added McNally. “We must make sure this never happens again.”

McNally is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and represents Senate District 5 in the Tennessee State Senate, which encompasses Anderson and Loudon Counties and portions of Knox County. Haynes is Chairman of the State Government Committee and represents portions of Knox County in the Tennessee House of Representatives.