Proof of citizenship

On May 11, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

By Tom Humphrey,
May 11, 2010

NASHVILLE – The House joined the Senate Monday in unanimously approving legislation that will require more drunken driving convicts to have their vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock system.

The bill – HB2768 – states that any offender who has been cited for having a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher must have one of the devices installed on his or her vehicle. The interlock system prevents starting of the vehicle if the driver’s breath shows the presence of alcohol.

The measure, approved 96-0 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate, now goes to Gov. Phil Bredesen for his expected signature.

Under current law, judges have discretion to require the devices, but in practice they are rarely deployed, officials said. The bill will make Tennessee the 14th state to require first offenders to use the devices.

The sponsors, Republicans Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet, say the devices are effective in keeping drunken drivers off the road and will save lives.

“This bill will save lives and unlike any other state, this bill addresses the entire DUI phenomenon from arrest to treatment to release,” Shipley said.

Offenders will have to pay an increased fine to cover costs of installing the devices, with part of the money sent to a fund that will cover the cost of devices installed on vehicles of indigent defendants.

‘Crack tax’ redux

The Senate gave final approval Monday night on legislation that puts into place a new law taxing illegal narcotics and moonshine, replacing a so-called “crack tax” that was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court last year.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, passed the Senate 32-0. HB3164 has already been approved by the House and now goes to Gov. Phil Bredesen for his expected signature.

Ticket quotas

The Senate approved 31-0 and sent to the governor Monday legislation to prohibit law enforcement agencies from setting quotas for the number of traffic tickets that must be issued by officers.

The bill – HB2952 – was sponsored by Sen. Tim Burchett and Rep. Harry Brooks, both Knoxville Republicans.

Proof of citizenship

The Senate voted Monday to allow election officials to require “satisfactory proof of citizenship” from people registering to vote if they deem it appropriate, a move opponents said could lead to racial profiling.

Current law already requires voters be citizens, but those pushing the measure – HB270 – said it is poorly enforced.

“What you have right now is, in a phrase, don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, contending that election officials are “afraid to ask” and the “applicant doesn’t tell.”

“If you don’t vote to give election officials this quantum of guidance, what you are saying by extension is that you don’t care whether they’re citizens or not.”

The bill has already passed the House 92-1, but in a different version. The House version required voters using mail-in registration forms to sign a statement declaring citizenship and that they understand the penalty for lying is a felony, punishable by up to 12 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

As amended by the Senate, the bill says that election officials “may” require a voter to furnish proof of citizenship. Democratic critics said that provides such broad discretion that it could be used to deter or prevent voters from registering on the basis of race or even politics. The bill would apply only to future registrations; voters already registered would not be impacted.

The final Senate vote was 20-12 with all no votes coming from Democrats. The measure was debated for hours over two days. The bill now returns to the House for a decision on whether to go along with the Senate amendments.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle noted that voter registration drives are sometimes organized by candidates or political parties. He said the bill would allow a registrar to demand citizenship proof from voters signed up by one candidate, not from another.

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