Liberty and Justice News

Republicans Broaden Anti-Terrorism Bill

Tennessee lawmakers stress that an expanded plan to fight “homegrown terrorism” has nothing to do with religion.

To prove it, they’ve crafted a bill that focuses not only on suspected radical Islamic fundamentalists or proponents of “Sharia Law,” but any group or individual in Tennessee suspected of harboring terrorist intentions or providing “material support” to groups “designated” by the government as potential terrorists.

Hundreds of Muslims who packed into Legislative Plaza Tuesday still beg to differ — although it was unclear whether they’d received a copy of the amendment, which at post time was not on the internet.

Members of the Muslim community jammed into two overflow committee rooms and a legislative lounge and lined the hallways to watch the House and Senate judiciary committees ultimately advance a measure that would give the administration power to identify terrorist entities and punish people who help them.

The original version of the bill specifically targeted people who practice Sharia Law, the foundation of Islamic Code. The two Republican sponsors have since given the bill a make-over by stripping any language about religion and instead widening the reach of the bill to anyone exhibiting potentially terrorist-like tendencies.

The current measure would allow the governor and the attorney general to label anyone as a terrorist if investigations from the state Department of Safety as well as the Office of Homeland Security suggest they are enough of a threat.

The 15-page “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” would ultimately fight “homegrown terrorism,” whether the state finds that threat in gangs, cults, religious groups or individuals, according to lawmakers carrying the bill.

However, no one group would be specifically targeted, according to Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny who is sponsoring the measure, HB1353, in the House.

“I would just, please, like to implore the Muslim community, this is not against you,” said Matheny. “This is not a witch hunt. This is nothing but to protect ourselves where the federal government can’t or won’t.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill 12-4 while the measure won a 6-3 favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both measures now advance to the houses’ Finance, Ways and Means committees.

The problem is the bill doesn’t give enough of a recourse for people falsely accused of being or helping terrorists, said Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat.

“It’s un-American as far as I’m concerned,” said Stewart. “What we’re saying here is that somebody in Tennessee, a regular person, can be declared a terrorist, and they have no right to a trial of their peers to clear their good name. That’s just completely the opposite of what we should be doing in this country.”

Votes for the measure fell on mostly partisan lines, although in both chambers, one Democrat voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, and one GOP lawmaker voted with Democrats against it.

Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he’s worried the move would give the governor’s office too much power to brand people — and ultimately groups — as terrorists or supporters of terrorists.

The measure feels a lot like the “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican.

“I may be wrong, and by God I really hope I’m not, but for me at this time it’s a bridge too far,” he said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee agrees, saying the language is much too vague and potentially unconstitutional.

Last year, the ACLU landed on the state’s Fusion Center tracking list — which monitors suspected terrorism and suspicious activities —  for penning a letter about respecting religious preferences during the December holiday season. State officials later said the posting was a mistake.

Democrats like Rep. Gary Moore of Joelton and Sen. Tim Barnes of Adams, siding with Republicans, said they are comfortable with the bill as is, although Barnes expects to draft an amendment that would clear up language on due process rights for those accused of being mixed up with terrorism.

Barnes noted to sponsor Ketron that not nearly the outrage would have arisen had the legislation been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill.”

“You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s where we are now,” Barnes said. “This bill has evolved remarkably from where it started out.”

Mohamed Ahmed, an imam from the Islamic Center of Nashville, testified briefly before the House Judiciary committee, telling lawmakers the new version of the measure dwells on emotional blackmail and penalizes the Muslim community, but more than that, it violates the rights of all citizens.

“We believe in justice. We trust our representatives. We’re going to oppose the bill. We’re going to go all the way, Finance Committee, the Senate,” he told reporters after the hearing. “We’re not going to give up. This is not the end. This is the beginning, and we still have a very long way to go.”

Here’s what the measure would do, according to the latest draft adopted Tuesday:

  • The Safety commissioner and state director of homeland security can investigate and recommend the governor and attorney general jointly label a person or group as a terrorists or a terrorist entity.
  • Terrorists are defined as any person or group of two or more people with the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security or safety of any U.S. resident.
  • Terrorist activity, according to U.S. Code Section 1182, includes any unlawful activities which involve any of the following: highjacking or sabotage of an aircraft, vessel or vehicle; holding someone hostage to compel a third party to do or not do something; a violent attack on public officials or their families; or use of biological or chemical agents, explosives, or weapons to endanger people or cause substantial property damage for more than monetary gain.
  • Anyone knowingly helping a person or group deemed a terrorist or terrorist group would be found guilty of a Class B felony, which would be upgraded to a Class A felony punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole if someone dies as a result of their material support.
  • “Material support” means “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, transportation, and personnel of one (1) or more individuals, including the entity itself; and does not include medicine or religious materials.”
  • Seven days before the designation is made official, the individual or group of people shall be served a summons. The individual or group will then have seven additional days to challenge the classification before it is posted on the Secretary of State website and made public in major newspapers.
  • Once the terrorist label becomes public, designees can seek a judicial review at the chancery court of Davidson County no more than 30 days after the designation kicks in.
  • Any confidential information used by the administration to designate the person or people as terrorists will remain confidential but may be disclosed at the administrative review.
  • A terrorist label can only be removed or blocked by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, a joint decision by the governor and the attorney general or by a court after a challenge by the designee.
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.”

Press Releases

First Lady Conte Participates In Crime Victims’ Rights Week Event

Press Release from the State of Tennessee; April 20, 2010:

Event Remembers Those In Davidson County Touched By Violent Crime

NASHVILLE – Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte today participated in a Crime Victims’ Rights Week event to remember individuals in Davidson County that have been touched by violent crime. National Crime Victim’s Rights Week, co-sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Victims of Crime, is April 18-24, 2010. The theme of this year’s observance is Crime Victims’ Rights: Fairness. Dignity. Respect.

Organizers of the Nashville event include You Have the Power…Know How to Use It, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about crime and justice issues founded by Conte in 1993. Conte, a former victim of violent crime, serves as president of the organization’s board.

“This week of observance give us an opportunity to make sure victims of crime and their families are aware of the resources and support available to them within their community,” said Conte.

Other participants scheduled to participate in the event include Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Edward Yarbrough, Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas, and Tennessee Commissioner of Correction Gayle Ray.

Tennessee’s First Lady has worked to serve victims of crime and abuse for more than 17 years. In addition to her role in founding You Have the Power, one of Conte’s initiatives upon becoming First Lady was to help establish a child advocacy center in each of the 31 judicial districts across the state. In 2003, there were 25 Child Advocacy Centers. Today there are 43 centers statewide.

As First Lady, Conte also worked to create a statewide Commission on Crime Victims Assistance that provides recommendations on the administration of the Criminal Injury Compensation Fund. Each December, she and Governor Phil Bredesen host “A Tennessee Season To Remember,” an annual holiday memorial event honoring Tennesseans who have lost their lives to violent crime.

Conte received national recognition as a longtime advocate for victims’ rights when she was presented with the National Crime Victim Service Award in 2008 during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

You Have the Power is dedicated to helping victims and educating the community to prevent violent crime. The group conducts educational programs, creates training videos and produces guidebooks on topics such as domestic violence, elder abuse and child sexual abuse. The videos are distributed nationwide to law enforcement agencies, schools, domestic violence shelters, civic groups and therapists. In addition, You Have the Power conducts numerous public programs across Tennessee.

For more information about You Have the Power, visit For additional information about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, visit

Press Releases

Wamp Talks Crime Prevention With Gibbons In Memphis

Press Release from Zach Wamp for Governor, April 11, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for governor, met this morning in Memphis with former Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons for an in-depth briefing on crime prevention and criminal justice issues. Gibbons also took Wamp on a tour of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center where they were joined by Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Jr.

Following their meeting this morning, General Gibbons spoke with reporters about his briefings with Wamp, including a discussion of specific challenges facing the people of Shelby County and many of the crime prevention programs now in use there.

“First of all, I want to thank Congressman Wamp for taking the time to come to 201 Poplar this morning. Sheriff Luttrell and I had an opportunity to brief him on many of the challenges that we are facing, along with Director Godwin and those who work with us at this building, as well as brief him on a number of things we’re trying to do to move us in the right direction,” said Gibbons.

“We talked a little bit this morning about our Operation Safe Community plan, which is a plan, a very specific plan, to move our community in the right direction on the issue of crime,” Gibbons said. “We need a governor in this state who takes the issue of public safety seriously and who goes to work every day with a lot of energy and passion determined to do something about it.”

Wamp pledged during his stop that as governor the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and public safety issues across the state would be a top priority for him from day one.

“I’ve made safe communities and security in our state a defining part of my 20/20 Vision for an Even Better Tennessee, and today I saw first-hand here in Memphis from my good friend Bill Gibbons and others about what we’re doing right and some of the tough challenges that still remain,” Wamp said.

Wamp was in Memphis today as part of a West Tennessee campaign swing that began Sunday with stops in nearby Haywood and Madison counties. Wamp will also meet with regional Chamber and business leaders for a discussion on new job creation and economic development while in Shelby County.

“Memphis matters to me. It matters to the future of Tennessee. The success of Shelby County should be important to every citizen in our state,” Wamp said. “Just because I didn’t grow up in Memphis doesn’t mean I won’t be committed to Memphis. In fact, because I am not from here, one of the areas I will devote the most time and energy to as governor will be Shelby County.”

During the visit with Gibbons, Wamp pledged to continue his long-standing work with law enforcement to help combat methamphetamine production across Tennessee. He also made clear his strong support for and advocacy of drug courts and alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders as a way to help free up more jail and prison space across the state to keep violent repeat criminal offenders locked up and off our streets.

For more information about Zach Wamp and his campaign for governor, please visit the campaign online at

Press Releases

Odom’s ‘Smart On Crime’ Bill Passes In House

Press Release from Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville; April 8, 2010:

House Passes Bill That More Than Doubles Penalty For Armed Robbery

(Nashville) — Democratic Leader Gary Odom passed a long-overdue measure through the Tennessee House of Representatives Thursday that will more than double the minimum time served for armed robbery.

“This is a big step we made today in making Tennessee a safer place to live,” said Odom (D-Nashville). “We hear from Tennesseans that it is time to get tough on crime. This bill gets tough on crime and it gets smart on crime, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.”

The bill doesn’t cost taxpayers because it is written to require that certain non-violent property offenders serve sentences in very extensive community corrections programs, under which they would pay restitution to their victims. By requiring these persons to serve in these programs, the measure would free up cells for the most violent criminals in society.

The bill passed the House on an 88-4 vote and will now head to the state Senate for consideration.

The bill, inspired by a West Nashville constituent held at gunpoint by a criminal who pleaded guilty to earlier armed robbery charges, will increase the minimum amount of time served from 30 to 74 percent.

“A constituent came to me and said: ‘Gary, this guy pointed a gun at me and robbed me in broad daylight in my yard. I was angry when I learned that he had done it before and should have still been in jail,’” Odom said.

The violent offender in the West Nashville case, under this legislation, would have served six of the eight years sentenced instead of only 2.4 years, Odom said.

Metro Nashville Chief of Police Ronal Serpas, a vocal proponent who was on the House floor to witness the vote, praised the bill as being “smart on crime.”

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, is endorsed by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and the Tennessee District Attorneys General.

Press Releases

Sen. Burks Sponsors Bill To Protect Domestic Violence Victims

Press Release from Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; April 5, 2010:

Legislation Lets Victims End Lease Agreements, Relocate More Easily

NASHVILLE – Victims of domestic abuse would be able to end lease contracts early and flee their abusers under a bill sponsored by Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey).

“Escaping a dangerous environment is the best way a domestic violence victim can prevent future abuse,” Burks said. “Victims should have the right to relocate for the safety of themselves and their children.”

The bill (SB902/HB323) would allow a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking to terminate a lease upon submitting an order of protection, a police or medical report, or a written report from a domestic violence or child abuse agency.

In a survey of domestic violence shelters and legal service agencies cited by the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, nearly two-thirds reported they had worked with victims who wanted to break their leases out of safety concerns. In one case, a woman wasn’t allowed to break her apartment lease after being raped by a tenant in the same building.

Two-thirds of the surveyed shelters and agencies also said they had worked with victims who were evicted after incidents of domestic violence. On several occasions, women were evicted for calling the police.

“It is shameful that victims of domestic violence would be blamed for the abuse perpetrated against them. It’s a clear sign of a broken system that needs to be fixed,” Burks said.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Press Releases

Gibbons Tours Youth Villages, Pledges To Reduce Juvenile Crime

Press Release from Bill Gibbons for Governor, March 22, 2010:

Bartlett, TN – Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons continues to make fighting crime a top priority, not only in his job at the D.A.’s office, but also as he gains momentum in his run for governor of Tennessee. General Gibbons today toured Youth Villages in Bartlett, a residential facility that offers mental health treatment for boys and girls.

“Most of the children who live at Youth Villages or participate in the programs are children who have also been part of the juvenile justice system. I wanted to see for myself how these treatment centers operate to better grasp the underlying problems of juvenile crime, and in turn, the best ways to fight it,” Gibbons said. “I was impressed with Youth Villages facilities and the staffs’ dedication to these troubled children,” he added.

While overall crime in many communities, including Shelby County, has gone down in recent years, juvenile crime remains a growing problem.

“Many of these children spend their whole lives shuffled through the juvenile justice system, rather than being in school and leading productive lives. As D.A., I’ve already cracked down on parents whose children are perpetually truant and helped match troubled children with caring mentors, but I think we have a long way to go. As governor, I want to move forward with new programs and ideas, instead of tying up kids in bureaucratic red tape,” Gibbons said.

Bill Gibbons, a Republican, is the Shelby County District Attorney General, serving as the top state law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest jurisdiction. He entered the governor’s race on January 4, 2009. For more information on Bill Gibbons, visit his campaign website at

Liberty and Justice News

Juvenile Sex Offender Bill Debated

A bill to add juveniles convicted of sex crimes to adult sex offender registry rolls could come up for a committee vote this week.

House lawmakers heard more than three hours of testimony last Tuesday on a piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who says it is necessary both to protect the public as well as line Tennessee up to receive a bigger chunk of federal law enforcement subsidies.

The bill would apply to offenders between the ages of 14 and 18 who are convicted of aggravated rape, rape, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated rape of a child, rape of a child if the victim is at least four years younger than the offender, or attempt to commit any of those crimes.

A juvenile would be placed on the registry after their second offense. Those who mental health officials deem to be at “high risk” to re-offend would be added to the registry after their first offense. Offenders would be on the registry for 25 years.

“Frankly, I don’t care if the rapist living next door is 51-years-old or 15-years-old – I think I have a right to know where he is,” said Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookville, who is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Testifying in favor of the measure, Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley declared that “knowledge is power,” and said the bill ultimately serves the purpose of giving parents a better ability to protect their children from attack by sexual predators, regardless of the offender’s age.

“Do you want to place emphasis on protecting the juvenile offenders, or do you want to place emphasis on juvenile victims – the little six-year-old, the little four-year-old whose parents might not have known that there is a violent sex offender living next door or going to church with them?” said the prosecutor. “Who do you want to protect?”

Opponents of the bill say it goes too far, and that it basically crosses a line at which giving a lasting stigma to a youthful violent sex offender becomes more risky to the community than not allowing the public immediate access to juveniles convicted of the crimes.

“For most of these kids, this is a life sentence,” said Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Carlton Lewis. Adding them to sex offender rolls would result in the juveniles being “branded for life,” he said.

Another judge said juvenile offenders should not be treated the same as adult offenders.

“If we want to treat sex offenders like we treat adult sex offenders, let’s adjudicate it all in Sessions Court and Criminal Court, said Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. “That’s what Juvenile Court is about. Juvenile Court, sometimes, is about taking chances.”

Supporters of the legislation, like one woman who testified that her 5-year-old son was molested, said public identification of sex offenders is a necessity, even if the offenders are juveniles. She also said she would check the registry to make sure her son was not around juveniles who have had a history of sexual offenses.

One mother of a juvenile sex offender said she too supports a registry. Not only would it make neighborhoods and communities safer, but it’d also help protect offenders liker her son “from his own self and his own actions,” she said.

Ultimately, developing a juvenile registry might lead to fewer cases being reported, said Trudy Hughes of the Blount County Child Advocacy Center.

“In 90 to 95 percent of these cases, there is a knowing and trusting relationship between the parties involved,” she said. “That often impacts reporting already.”

Dr. Bill Murphy, a psychiatrist who treats juvenile sex offenders in Memphis, said “most of the research would say” establishing a registry would be ineffective in protecting the community, he said.

Murphy added that it would also be difficult for law enforcement and probation officers to keep up with those on the registry because they are already stretched thin just keeping tabs on adult offenders.

Lawmakers on the panel say they’re interested in trying to balance concern for public safety and the effects the law could have on juvenile offenders.

“I think I’m struggling like most other people,” said Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma. “I think these egregious offenses have got to be put on some type of registry where the public has to be made aware of them. But at the same time, I think we’re painting too many of our citizens into a corner one way or another and condemning them to a life that’s never going to be productive.”

Matheny suggested the cases be handled in juvenile court, then have a different judge review the case and the progress the teen has made in therapy 90 days before the teen’s 18th birthday. That final judge would decide if the teen belongs on the registry.

Another suggestion was to have mental health professionals assess and decide whether the teen belongs on the registry. A third suggestion in committee would make the registry only available to law enforcement.

A companion bill in the Senate has yet to be taken up by that chamber’s Judiciary Committee.