State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative Update

March 14, 2008

Tennessee may soon require convicted sex offenders to provide email addresses and screen names to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), under legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers said the bill would strengthen Tennessee’s laws against child sex offenders and better protect children online.

“Child sexual predators know how to reach their victims via the Internet,” said Beavers. “I believe this legislation will be an effective tool for law enforcement to find and prosecute these offenders.”

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one of five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the web. However, only 25 percent of the children who encountered the approach told a parent or adult.

The legislation, SB 2594, would require that convicted sex offenders provide email addresses, chat names, instant message screen names, and any other online electronic communications information to the TBI as part of their routine and annual information collection requirements. The TBI would be authorized to transmit that information electronically to companies that provide pre-screening services. In order to obtain information from the TBI, this bill requires the requesting business or organization to agree to notify them when a comparison indicates that a registered offender's email address, instant message, chat, or other Internet communication name or identity is being used on their system. Finally, the bill would also provide stiff penalties and/or incarceration for the falsification or omission in providing this information to the TBI.

Beavers said other studies show teens are willing to meet with strangers, with 16 percent of them considering meeting someone they have talked to online. Eight percent have actually met someone they only knew online.

Recently, a Tennessee convicted sex offender’s vehicle was stopped during a routine search in Nashville and was found with five male children, ranging in age from 12-13 years-old. The sex offender met one of the boys on MySpace, a popular social networking site. The five juveniles were in the vehicle with the offender for three hours, and officers discovered that none of them had any relation to the defendant, police records indicate. Earlier this year, MySpace announced a national partnership with 49 states to implement greater security measures for sites available to teens online.

“Hopefully, this bill will keep these convicted sex offenders from using the Web to contact children,” she added.

There are 600,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. An estimated 150,000 of these offenders have been “lost” in the system.

Beavers said action to strengthen Tennessee’s sexual offender laws build on legislation passed last year including:

The Tennessee Jessica Lunsford Act which implemented the 25-year minimum mandatory sentence for sex offenders and global positioning system (GPS) monitoring for those under community supervision

A measure to create a class of “child sexual predators,” who upon a second or subsequent conviction would be required to serve 100 percent of their sentence

A new law to add rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child to felony murder offenses

Legislation to extend the group of people required to give DNA samples to those convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense

A measure requiring sex offenders to report a change in employment status

A new law ensuring that sex offenders who enter a plea of “nolo contenderes” or who are found guilty by a jury or court in any other state or country register with the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry

Legislation that aims to strengthen Tennessee’s new law against the hiring of illegal aliens has advanced in the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill is one of a series of proposals being considered by the State Senate this year that would address illegal immigration reform.

“This bill is one of several bills pending before us that will crack down on the hiring of illegal aliens in the workplace in Tennessee,” said Senator Beavers. “Our legislature is taking a comprehensive look at bills to stop the flow of illegal aliens within Tennessee’s borders.”

Currently, only state or local government agencies can file complaints against companies who knowingly hire illegals with the Department of Labor. The bill, SB 3647, approved by the committee deletes this requirement and instead allows any person who has reason to believe that an employer has knowingly employed an illegal alien to file a complaint. It also requires that the complaint be in writing and under oath, and imposes a penalty for intentionally falsifying information.

The current law, which went into effect on January 1, allows the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development to take away an employer’s business license for up to one year if the employer is found to knowingly employ an illegal immigrant. The complaints filed with the Department of Labor are followed with an investigation. If probable cause is found, a hearing is held. If the employer is found to have employed an illegal immigrant, their business license can then be revoked, suspended or denied.

The full Senate gave final approval this week to legislation clarifying that Tennessee employers have a right to institute an English-in-the-workplace policy. The bill, which was passed by a vote of 30 to 0, makes it clear that an English-in-the-workplace policy is not considered discrimination on the basis of national origin while the employee is engaged in work.

Protection of employer rights in instituting English-in-the-workplace policies has increased both in the states and on the national scene since the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began prosecuting employers who required that English be spoken while conducting business. One notable case involved a Salvation Army thrift store in Framingham, Massachusetts, where two employees refused to learn English and were subsequently fired after being given a year’s notice to learn the language.

Under the bill, SB 2849, a person would not be considered to be engaged in work during any meal period, rest period, or any other break. The bill is permissive and only applies during the period in which the person is required to perform official duties associated with their employment.

“This bill is permissive,” said Senator Beavers. “It simply says that if employers want to require that employees speak English while on the job, they can do so. There are many occupations where there could be real safety concerns if there are court rulings holding that other languages are the ‘civil rights’ of workers while on the job.”

Issues in Brief

Sales Tax Holiday bill becomes law -- The governor signed into law legislation sponsored by Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) this week to move the state’s spring sales tax holiday to the last weekend in April so that it will not interfere with businesses that close for Easter. The holiday, which was designed to provide relief to taxpayers by instituting a temporary sales tax exemption on certain items, was scheduled by law for the weekend of March 21 – 23. Those dates coincide with both Good Friday and Easter this year. Senate Republicans were instrumental in the passage of several tax reform initiatives during the past legislative session, including Senator Mae Beavers’ (R-Mt. Juliet) bill that reduced the sales tax on food and created the spring sales tax holiday.

Auto theft -- The full Senate approved legislation sponsored by Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) to reduce auto theft in Tennessee. The bill, SB 2858, would require scrap metal processors who purchase vehicles with the intention of dismantling or salvaging them to provide proof of ownership. Any vehicle purchased that is over ten years old and which does not contain the motor or is inoperable, would not require a title but must have a written statement signed by the seller or their agent stating they have a lawful right to sell and dispose of the vehicle. It also requires records on those transactions be kept for five years, including the name and address of the buyer, the amount they paid for the vehicle, date of sale, description of the auto, VIN number, and the license plate number of any vehicle transporting the automobile.

Charter Schools – Legislation extending the life of charter schools in Tennessee was heard in the Senate Education Committee. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) would also make a very conservative expansion of student eligibility to public charter schools to fill any empty slots with students who are classified “at risk.” Tennessee has the most restrictive public charter school law in the nation. Currently, a student must be from a "failing" school or the student must be a "failing" student. Tennessee's charter schools passed their first real performance test this year when the State Comptroller's Office of Education Accountability issued its findings to the General Assembly. The study showed a higher percentage of middle and high school students in charter schools scored "proficient" or "advanced" in 35 comparisons with their traditional school counterparts, while the traditional school students scored higher in 18 of the comparisons.

Election of Lt. Gov. and Secretary of State -- The full Senate approved 20 to 10 a resolution calling for the election of Tennessee’s lieutenant governor and secretary of state. The lieutenant governor is currently elected by the State Senate every two years, while the secretary of state is elected by House and Senate members in a joint session every four years. The proposal to change the state constitution would have to pass both chambers this year; and then again by a two-thirds vote in the next General Assembly before it could be voted on by Tennesseans in the 2010 election.

Health Care Tax Credits -- The Senate Finance’s Tax Subcommittee considered but deferred until next week, action on two bills to provide health care tax credits. One bill, SB 3936, sponsored by Republican Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) would provide a Hall Income Tax deduction for premiums paid by the taxpayer for long term care insurance. The credit would be in an amount equal to the total amount of premiums paid by the taxpayer. The other bill, SB 2659 , sponsored by Republican Caucus Chairman Diane Black (R-Gallatin) would establish tax credits for small business owners who offer health insurance to their employees and dependents.

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