Senator Beavers says Judiciary Committee hears anti-crime and DUI bills

February 16, 2008

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Mae Beavers heard testimony on several anti-crime bills last week, including one bill requiring individuals to report crimes where serious injury or death occurs. Under this bill, it would be a Class B misdemeanor offense for a person to fail to report a crime that results in serious injury and a Class A misdemeanor when the attack results in death.

Bill sponsor Senator Randy McNally of Oak Ridge said the bill comes after several cases of unreported violent crime nationwide, including one in Nevada where Jeremy Strohmeyer followed a seven-year old girl and eventually assaulted and murdered the girl. Strohmeyer's friend, David Cash, saw the man pursue the girl and even followed them into the restroom where he saw a struggle. Cash, who failed to report the crime to anyone, could not charged by authorities since he did not take any affirmative action to cover up the crime. Cash later made public statements indicating he felt no remorse for failure to report the crime, and in fact bragged about his notoriety in the case.

Senator Beavers says "Certainly, we need to make sure that our laws cover such cases. There should be a threat of penalty to ignore a crime such as this."

The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on a bill that would require ignition interlock devices to be installed on motor vehicles driven by DUI offenders. The bill, sponsored by Senator Tim Burchett of Knoxville aims to cut down on the number of deaths on Tennessee highways due to drunk driving.

Senator Beavers says "Research shows that ignition interlock devices are one of the most effective ways to keep drunk drivers from continuing to drive drunk". Beavers, who is also carrying legislation calling for installation of interlocks for DUI offenders, says "Unfortunately, they're significantly underused across the state. Passage of legislation to require use of these devices will greatly help in our efforts to get drunk drivers off our roads."

Ignition interlocks act like a breathalyzer that can prevent a vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol. The driver blows into a breath analyzing machine, and if they pass the test they can start the vehicle.

Jefferson County General Sessions Judge Ben Strand testified before the committee in support of the legislation. Strand, who regularly requires the device for those with a .15 BAC or greater, said it would not be unusual to see 50 DUI cases on "a Wednesday afternoon" in his court. He estimated the average BAC level in his court at .15. Strand estimated about 75 percent of those convicted of DUI "are going to drive anyway." He said installing the devices would minimize that chance.

The committee has deferred action on the bill for two weeks. Next week, the committee will take up a number of other DUI bills, including Beavers' bill that would strengthen penalties for extreme drunk driving, require automatic license revocation, ban open containers, and impose tougher sentences for those who drink, drive and kill.

The full Senate voted 26 to 6 to approve legislation, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson of Franklin to give parents more information and "a say" in personal safety instruction given to three, four and five-year old children in child care centers across the state. The bill addresses curriculum to prevent sexual abuse provided by the State Department of Human Services that many child care centers feel is too graphic or inappropriate for children of that age.

The legislation would allow centers to alter the curriculum, while still providing safety training. It also requires a note be sent to parents of the children, who could then review the curriculum at the center and opt their child out if they believe it is inappropriate for their child.

Senator Beavers says "The curriculum we saw was not appropriate for toddlers and pre-K children. Parents of these very young children should have a say in what their children are being taught, rather than a state government-mandated curriculum that there is no option to veto. This bill accomplishes both informing the parent of what their child is taught and giving them the right to opt their child out if they feel it is inappropriate."

The State Senate heard two of the three required readings of House Joint Resolution 108 last week to amend the Tennessee Constitution by protecting the right to hunt and fish. The measure would be voted on in the same manner as the "Victim's Rights Amendment" in 1998, the "State Lottery Scholarship Amendment" of 2002, or the recent amendment to give property tax relief to the elderly. If approved by the legislature this year and by a two-thirds majority in the next General Assembly in 2009, citizens could expect to see the resolution on the ballot in November.

Senator Beavers says "There are many radical groups that would like to take away the rights of hunters and fishermen. This bill assures Tennesseans will have this right for many years to come."

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