Crime bill falls victim to cost

On June 10, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

Family court project rewritten for next year

By Ryan Poe, Memphis Commercial Appeal
June 10, 2009

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee legislature is pinching pennies, and bills to enhance penalties for crime and to create a unified family court have paid the price.

Of the eight bills affecting the City of Memphis and Shelby County governments’ project called Operation Safe Community, all but two have failed or been abandoned this session.

Although most of the bills would have applied statewide, they were the leading items in local wish lists for state legislation.

One measure which could be passed soon is the crooks-with-guns bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis. The bill would prohibit criminals convicted of aggravated robbery with a firearm from being released from jail until they’ve served at least 75 percent of their sentences.

The other bill still winding its way through the legislature, and also sponsored by Norris and DeBerry, changes existing law so that each conviction for multiple armed burglaries committed within a 24-hour period counts as separate convictions for purposes of sentencing. Current law counts multiple armed burglary convictions within a 24-hour period as one conviction.

Besides the proposals concerning Operation Safe Community, Shelby County government ran into difficulty obtaining passage for other items on their agenda, including a bill to create an alert system for lost seniors, similar to the Amber Alert, and another to strengthen state sentencing laws. Both bills would have cost millions of dollars if passed, according to state government estimates.

One county-backed bill failed not because of money, but because it needed to be reworked. The Unified Family Court Pilot Project would have created a trial program to allow one judge to handle the various legal issues facing a family, such as domestic violence, child support and divorce.

The bill, in streamlined form, is expected to be proposed again next year.

Some bills that have failed in the Legislature this year:

For Shelby County

Endangered Missing Senior Alert Act — Creates a missing senior alert, similar to the amber alert.

Enhanced Sentencing — Allows Shelby County to implement a three-strike law policy, making punishments harsher for repeat offenders.

Unified Family Court Pilot Project — Creates a program to allow one Shelby County court to handle the various legal issues facing a family.

For Memphis

Vicious Dogs — Prevents felons convicted of violent crimes from keeping a vicious dog.

Dangerous Felony — Expands the definition of “dangerous felony” to include criminal attempt at first-degree murder, second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated arson and burglary where the suspect possesses a firearm during the commission of the act.

Aggravated Robbery — Increases penalty for aggravated robbery from Class B to Class A felony when accomplished by use of a firearm or explosive device.

Enhanced Sentencing — Establishes enhanced sentences for crimes of force or violence if committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons.

Attorney General Positions — Creates 12 additional assistant district attorney general positions by Oct. 1, 2009.

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