Law and order legislation topped a busy week on Capitol Hill as the State Senate approved several bills to protect Tennesseans from violent crime. The anti-crime bills included four measures to strengthen Tennessee’s laws against child abuse and a series of bills to crack down on crooks with guns. In addition, voter integrity and highway fund legislation rounded out the list of important legislation that moved through the Senate this week.
Bill Passes to Prevent Robbing Highway Fund
A bill passed Senate Transportation this week to prevent the governor from removing money from the highway fund set up to pay for roads and bridges. Over the past few years, approximately 290 million dollars have been robbed from the highway fund to pay for other portions of the governor’s agenda. This money is largely generated from gasoline taxes and is supposed to be appropriated to fund road improvements and construction.
“Even when we had over 1.3 billion dollars in surplus a few years ago, Governor Bredesen was still stripping our highway funds and not replenishing them,” said Senate Transportation member Mae Beavers. “Now we are expected to pay for bonds to fund these transportation projects? I think we need to start putting legislation in place to prevent this mess from happening again.”
Legislation cracking down on violent crime advances in State Senate
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved two bills this week to crack down on violent crime in Tennessee. Tennessee ranks second in the nation in the number of violent crimes. Sixty-seven percent of those convicted of violent crimes are re-arrested within three years of being released from prison.
One bill, SB 672, adds attempted first degree murder to the “Crooks with Guns” law.
The bill would also add multiple years to the sentence of a violator who possesses a firearm when attempting first-degree murder. The second bill, SB 2115, aims to keep repeat violent criminals convicted of aggravated burglary behind bars longer by counting each felony committed within a 24-hour period as a separate offense.
Voter Integrity bill approved in Senate State and Local Government Committee
Legislation protecting the integrity of elections in Tennessee was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee after the bill was sent back to committee members for further review. That bill requires voters to provide photo identification to guard against fraud and assure only U.S. citizens vote.
The bill, SB 150, provides for various forms of photo identification to be used including a driver’s license, military identification, a valid passport, government employee identification cards, and any federal and state-issued identification cards that contain a photograph of the voter. The bill takes into account and provides for those who cannot pay for an i.d. and those who are in nursing homes, and provisional ballots would be available as well.
Seven states require a photograph be shown to prove identification, including neighboring states Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana. The voter integrity legislation has been approved for the past several years in Tennessee’s State Senate but has failed in the House of Representatives along party lines with Democrats opposing the bill.
Issues in Brief
Privacy of information / permit holder database – Legislation which aims to protect the confidential information of handgun permit holders advanced after approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal, SB 1126, would protect the confidential information by removing the handgun permit holders’ database from provisions of the state’s open records law. Many citizens have been offended by the publication of the database by newspapers and media websites. Permit holders fear criminals will use the information to target their homes to steal weapons, while those who do not own guns are worried about the risk of being identified as a home without a firearm.
Honoring fallen soldiers – Legislation that would honor soldiers who die in the line of duty advanced in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. The legislation requires that, if members of the armed forces dies in the line of duty, the Governor shall proclaim a day or mourning in their honor and the names of the deceased members of the armed forces shall be recorded in the journal of the Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation, SB 1647, also requires that the flag be flown at half-mast to honor these soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice for their state and country.