Legislation protects public from sexual predators on work release

April 5, 2008

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that makes persons convicted of sexual offenses ineligible for work release. The bill applies to sex offenders housed in local jails, private prisons or state correctional facilities.

"These offenders should not be out on work release," said Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers ."It is too big a risk that could endanger our citizens."

Studies show that sex offenders are rarely, if ever, rehabilitated. This is one of the reasons Tennessee and other states have set up a sex offender registry.

"There are too many cases of sex offenders who repeat their crime," Beavers added. "We must make public safety our first concern."

Meanwhile, legislation that would prohibit the diversion of gas tax money from being diverted from the state's road fund to the general fund to pay for other state government expenses was approved this week in the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill would eliminate the authority of state government to divert approximately $13.7 million in the highway user fees this year.

"Tennessee has a user ‘pay as you go' road program," said Senator Mae Beavers "We have not had to rely on bonds or indebtedness like so many other states to fund our highway program. If funds continue to be diverted, it will upset this balance and lead to many problems. It also leads to even more traffic congestion and an inadequate road system, which Tennessee had before we adopted this system."

The Department of Transportation only spends the funds that are available through its dedicated revenues, the highway user taxes and fees, and federal funding. Called "dedicated funding" since users pay for the roads through gas taxes and fees, a portion of the gasoline tax also goes to cities and counties in Tennessee to fund local roads.

"We must also compete in a very competitive economic climate to bring jobs to our communities," Beavers added. "We need the infrastructure to bring new and better paying jobs into Tennessee. Erosion of our road money is a big problem in this effort."

The Highway Fund would receive approximately $11.4 million of the shifted funds under the bill, SB 2953. Local governments would receive the remaining $2.3 million.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to strengthen penalties against the worst drunk drivers by lowering the level Tennessee considers "extreme drunk driving" from .20 to .15. The bill would add up to seven more days of jail time for offenders who are convicted of an extreme drunk driving charge.

"This bill is one of a package of proposals that we are pushing this year," said Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), sponsor of the bill. "Fifty-two percent of drivers that were involved in alcohol-related fatalities had BAC levels at or above .16. Drivers at this level are 382 times more likely to be involved in a crash. We need to focus our resources on getting these offenders off our roads."

Tennessee is one of few states in the nation that sets the standard at .20, a level when many drunk drivers lose consciousness. There were 1,287 fatalities on Tennessee roads with 509 due to alcohol-related crashes, a 7.6 percent increase from the previous year. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of deaths among persons between the ages of 3 and 33, with 50% of them being alcohol-related crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted studies showing extreme drunk driving laws work. NHTSA includes the .15 standard for extreme drunk driving in its model legislation for a comprehensive approach to lowering the incidence of DUI in states. Currently, Tennessee has only five of the eleven elements proposed by NHTSA in their model bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) will have a special meeting on Wednesday to consider a resolution calling for removal of William E. Gibson from the office of District Attorney General of the Thirteenth Judicial District by the state of Tennessee. Tennessee's Constitution provides that attorneys for the state may be removed from office by a concurrent two-thirds vote of both Houses of the General Assembly, each House voting separately. The resolution calling for removal, if approved, could be on the floor as early as next Thursday. The thirteenth district includes Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White Counties

Senator Jim Tracy won Senate approval of legislation he sponsored that would end the rights of a member of the General Assembly to continue receiving healthcare benefits if they are convicted of a felony for misuse of their office. The bill requires the state to end the benefits upon conviction or upon a plea of guilty to such charges if the charges are in relation to the member's official capacity as a legislator.

Senator Randy McNally guided legislation through the full Senate this week that adds abuse of inhalants to the state's DUI laws. The bill authorizes various forms of education and treatment; and requires investigation involving inhalant abuse. Inhalants produce an effect that may be similar to alcohol intoxication. Police are seeing a proliferation of this dangerous practice, including a case earlier this month where a driver who had been "huffing" a pressurized dust remover crashed into a Rutherford County special education school bus.

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