Tennessee House approves pair of anti-crime bills

On March 26, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

By Richard Locker, CommercialAppeal.com
March 26, 2012

NASHVILLE — The House approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam two anti-crime bills Monday night that he and law enforcement officials have sought for several years.

One enacts tougher sentences for gun possession by people with prior violent felony convictions. The other enhances penalties for additional crimes committed by gangs, defined in the bill as three or more people.

The governor is certain to sign them into law. The two bills are part of a public-safety package of legislation he presented to lawmakers in January, and he included funding for both in his budget proposal working its way through the General Assembly: $4.8 million for the gang-crime measure and $271,000 for the gun bill.

Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, sponsored the bills, which passed both chambers without any negative votes. The Senate had passed the bills March 19.

Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons — the former Shelby County district attorney who has worked for both bills for years — testified in favor of them in earlier committee hearings. He said that about 19,000 people arrested in Memphis over the last decade possessed a firearm when they were charged, about 30 percent of them had been previously convicted of felonies and that prosecutors needed a “more effective hammer” to deter felons from going armed.

Currently, illegal possession of a firearm by convicted violent felons is punishable as a Class E felony, which carries a one- to six-year sentence and up to $3,000 in fines. Senate Bill 2250 increases the offense to a Class C felony, punishable by a 3- to 15-year sentence and up to $10,000 in fines for convicted felons carrying a firearm whose prior crime involved the use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. It would be a Class D felony (2 to 12 years and up to $5,000 in fines) for felons whose conviction involved a drug offense.

The second bill, SB 2252, enhances penalties for aggravated assault, robbery or aggravated burglary committed by groups of three or more people by moving the crime one classification higher than if they had acted alone. It adds those three crimes to a list of offenses whose penalties were enhanced in previous gang-crime laws.

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