Legislature passes bill to address repeat offenders, sentencing

Published 8:49 am Thursday, April 21, 2016

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee General Assembly approved major legislation co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) on Tuesday which aims to reduce crime and improve public safety.
The Public Safety Act of 2016 addresses the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate by establishing mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, or drug trafficking.
On Tuesday, the Tennessee Senate passed the Act on a vote of 28-4. The House approved the measure on April 7 on a vote of 88-0 with four members not voting.
“The primary duty of government is to protect its citizens,” said Kelsey, who was a member of Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, which crafted the legislation. “This legislation will keep people safer in their homes by increasing the time served by those who repeatedly break into homes.”
Under current law, those convicted three times or more of aggravated burglary and especially aggravated burglary must serve only 30 percent of their sentence before being considered for release or parole. The act sets the mandatory minimum period of incarceration to 85 percent for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances. To update the law and help control costs, the legislation also changes the felony thresholds for property theft.
Under current law, theft of property with a value of less than $500 is considered a Class A misdemeanor. The Public Safety Act of 2016 would raise that threshold to $1,000. The new threshold for Class E felony theft of property would be for items valued between $1,000 and $2,500. The range of property values for Class D felony will be set at $2,500-$10,000.
On domestic violence, the legislation will allow a law enforcement officer to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. Additionally, if a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection will be issued when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. A hearing should be held within 15 days of the automatic order of protection being issued.
A third and subsequent domestic violence conviction would change from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony under the legislation. This change maintains the current minimum 90-day sentence for a domestic violence conviction.
“Unfortunately, Tennessee is ranked among the worst states for its high incidence of domestic violence,” Kelsey added. “This legislation makes significant changes to help protect Tennesseans from domestic violence.”
In addition, the measure retools community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when their noncompliance does not rise to the level of a new criminal offense. The move is expected to save the state $80 million.
Of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 40 percent were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. This legislation authorizes the department to utilize a robust, structured matrix of both sanctions and incentives to facilitate compliance with the conditions of supervision by the more than 71,000 state probationers and parolees.
The bill is funded by an $18 million appropriation in the state budget which passed the General Assembly last week. The legislation, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives, now goes to Haslam for his signature.

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