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Capitol Hill Week
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BEAVERS
Law and order legislation dominated debate in the State Senate this week as lawmakers considered several of Governor Bill Haslam’s public safety bills.The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), advanced legislation to enact tougher sentences for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions and two drug abuse measures, while the State and Local Government Committee approved a bill to realign under the Department of Correction the supervision of adult felony offenders to include probation, parole and community corrections.The bills were drafted at the recommendation of a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group composed of more than 10 government agencies which held meetings with over 300 leaders in law enforcement, substance abuse, and corrections.The group developed 11 objectives and 40 action steps in their multi-year safety action plan with the goal of significantly reducing drug abuse and drug trafficking; curbing violent crime; and, lowering the rate of repeat offenders in Tennessee.Felons with Guns -- Among bills approved was Senate Bill 2250 that would increase from a Class E felony to a Class C felony the punishment for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose crime involved the use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. The punishment would be a Class D felony for those whose conviction involved a felony drug offense.The purpose of the bill is to give district attorneys in Tennessee a stronger tool to keep convicted felons, who are prohibited from possessing a firearm, off Tennessee streets.Gang Violence -- The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony regarding Senate Bill 2252 that would enhance penalties for certain crimes committed by groups of three or more people.Shelby County Deputy District Attorney General John Campbell told members of the Judiciary Committee that a person robbed by more than one assailant has a much greater chance of suffering severe injury or death.The bill to keep them behind bars longer bumps up penalties by one classification for aggravated assault, robbery, or aggravated burglary, if the crime is committed in concert with two or more persons.Action on the legislation was deferred until next week at the request of the sponsor.Corrections -- Senate Bill 2248 was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.The legislation gives the State Department of Corrections the authority to supervise probation and parole services to provide a seamless one person contact for offenders throughout the entire criminal justice system.This bill was part of the administration’s top to bottom review of departments and agencies conducted last year.The consolidation of these agencies will reduce the competition for providers and allow for continuity of a single point of contact.Forty states operate under a consolidated system, which is widely recognized as a best practice in corrections.The existing organizational structure that actually performs under the Board of Pardons and Paroles will remain intact upon transfer to the Department of Corrections.Drug Abuse -- In other action on the governor’s public safety legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation clarifying two statutes in Tennessee law dealing with the purchase of amphetamines for the purpose of making meth.