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Legislative review: Lawmakers continue work

Staff Reports • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Senate committees continued to review the budget requests of several departments and agencies of state government last week. 

In particular, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee 155,000 net new private sector jobs were created in the state since January 2011.  Tennessee now ranks sixth in the nation in terms of job growth, and Hagerty said he believes those numbers will continue to grow. In addition, Tennessee is second in the southeast and 14th in the nation in personal income growth, with a 10-percent increase since 2011.

Job growth in rural Tennessee communities is also a key priority for the department. Last year, the “Select Tennessee” program was launched to help counties across the state inventory their industrial properties and bring them up to international site standards certification. Since that time, 26 sites were certified. This certification helps new or expanding companies have the certainty that these sites meet special standards and are ready to be operational in the shortest possible timeframe.

Tennessee earned a number of accolades in 2013, including being named No. 1 in the nation by Business Facilities magazine for automotive manufacturing strength for an unprecedented four years in a row. Site Selection magazine also ranked Tennessee in the top five states with the best business climate. CEO respondents voted Tennessee the fourth best state in the U.S. for business in Chief Executive magazine’s annual Best and Worst States for Business survey.

State senators last week also voted to approve legislation to help ensure innocent individuals are not arrested and jailed on felonies just because someone has a grudge against them and uses the judicial system to carry out their feud in court. 

The bill calls for a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit of complaint for a felony arrest before a warrant can be issued unless the accusations include domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. 

Under current law any private citizen can give a statement to an officer, take that statement to a judicial commissioner and swear out a warrant against another private citizen with a simple signature. The judicial commissioner is asked to make a probable cause determination based only on one side of the story. This situation results in many innocent individuals being arrested and imprisoned until they can make bond and push through the judicial system.

The situation was portrayed in detail with the Keith Bullock arrest last year. An assistant district attorney dismissed the case within weeks after a cab driver had him arrested for robbery.

The legislation still allows for a private individual to get a misdemeanor warrant on their signature alone, but a presumption is created encouraging a citation or summons so people are not arrested and forced to make bond just because another private individual says they should be without any law enforcement investigation at all.

Private individuals would still be able to get a felony or misdemeanor indictment through the grand jury process.

The Senate also discussed other issues last week, including:

Student Health – Legislation received final Senate approval that prohibits schools from using the time provided students to walk from one class to the next from being used as 90 minutes per week required under Coordinated School Health Law for students to receive physical activity.  Senate Bill 1760 ensures schools abide by the spirit of that law intended to help students make healthy choices through physical activity. Tennessee ranks among the highest in the nation in child obesity and diabetes. 

Human Trafficking – State senators gave final approval to another bill in the legislative package designed to curb human trafficking in Tennessee. Under present law, the statute of limitations for prosecution for the offense of trafficking a child for a commercial sex act, soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor, or exploitation of a minor by electronic means is no later than 15 years from the date the child becomes 18 years old. Senate Bill 1658 extends the statute of limitations to 25 years after the child turns 18 for these offenses. The bill applies to offenses that are committed against a child on or after July 1.

• TBI Human Sex Trafficking Report – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a follow-up study to its 2011 report on Human Sex Trafficking and its impact on Children and Youth. The report showed sex trafficking of minors happens in rural and urban areas of Tennessee and has an effect in both wealthy and poor households. It was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households may be especially vulnerable to victimization.

Crime Victims / Court Process – The full Senate gave final approval to two bills to help crime victims and their families from being further victimized by an unjust court process.  Senate Bills 1796 and 1797 stem from the brutal murders of Knoxville residents Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, who were carjacked, brutally raped, tortured and murdered.  Senate Bill 1796 creates a presumption applicable to a successor judge that the presiding judge, who serves as the 13th juror, is presumed to have completed his duties once the judge accepts the verdict of the jury. Senate Bill 1797 puts new restrictions on bringing into evidence presumptions or false information that are related to the victim that is totally unrelated to the crime. This measure would put Tennessee law into agreement with the constitutional amendment passed by Tennesseans in 1998 which states crime victims should be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice system.

• Pledge to the Flag – The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a resolution recognizing Feb. 10 as the 60th anniversary of the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The date recognizes when U.S. Sen. Homer Ferguson, of Michigan, introduced a bill in the 1954 Congress to amend the text. Ferguson chose this date because it marked the 1949 anniversary of the imprisonment of Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, of Hungary, who was jailed and tortured by communists for his sermons exposing the goal of communism to eradicate all religion. The Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag was first recited using the words “one nation, under God” on Flag Day on June 14, 1954. 

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