Norris News – February 16, 2018

On February 16, 2018, in News from Nashville 2018, by Mark Norris
Disability Day on the Hill brought friends to visit from the Arc of the Mid-South

Disability Day on the Hill brought friends to visit from the Arc of the Mid-South

Senate Judiciary approves Henry’s Law stiffening penalties against drug dealers who kill minors

Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1875, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose.

The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.

Henry’s mother, Katie Allison, and his aunt, Betsy Tant, told members of the Judiciary Committee about the importance of this bill to save other families from suffering the same fate as Henry. “Clearly, this opioid epidemic is hitting our kids hard,” said Allison. “And there are adults out there, unfortunately, who would prey on the vulnerability and poor decision-making that many adolescents show. They try to cultivate new customers and, in doing so, kill them instead. The reason we believe it is important for our state criminal code to attach an enhanced sentencing range to second degree homicide is because currently we don’t hold those who prey on our children with these horrible opiate drugs fully accountable for the damage and death they are bringing to this state.”

Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

Allison and Tant started Henry’s Fund, a non-profit which works to end teen and young adult drug addiction through treatment funding, education, support and advocacy.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

Members of the Lakeland School Board were in Nashville on Tuesday

Members of the Lakeland School Board were in Nashville on Tuesday

 

Sen. John Stevens, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Sen. Brian Kelsey, Rep. Mike Carter, myself and Sen. Lee Harris, all attorneys serving in the General Assembly, were privileged to speak to the Leadership Law class this week

Sen. John Stevens, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Sen. Brian Kelsey, Rep. Mike Carter, myself and Sen. Lee Harris, all attorneys serving in the General Assembly, were privileged to speak to the Leadership Law class this week

Reentry Incentive Grant program aims to reduce recidivism in Tennessee jails

Legislation calling for an innovative pilot program to provide grants to local county sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1865, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), would provide $2 million in grants to fund a three-year successful reentry program in four Tennessee counties.

“Each year, about 5,000 Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving for crimes they have committed,” said Sen. Jackson, who is Chairman of the Senate Corrections Subcommittee. “We can either help them become productive, taxpaying citizens, or we can risk them turning back to a life of crime and create a never-ending cycle. This pilot program will help identify and formulate better policies that can be scaled throughout the state. The result will be a more effective corrections system that will reduce recidivism, make our communities safer, and help save taxpayer money.”

The proposed budget for corrections for the 2018-19 fiscal year is over $1 billion.

Under the proposal, applicants must apply to the Department of Correction stating program objectives, goals and metrics. Once selected, they can receive a portion of the money upfront to start or expand a re-entry program, but the remaining funds will not be awarded unless specific benchmarks reducing recidivism or probation revocations are met.

Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism found that 46 percent of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee were incarcerated again within three years. Tennessee’s felon inmate population has grown by 11.7 percent over the past five years.

“We must reverse this trend,” added Jackson. “This pilot program will incentivize better outcomes in our corrections system.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

February is Black History Month. This bust of Sampson Keeble is displayed on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Keeble was the first African-American elected to the General Assembly in 1873. The bust also commemorates all of the African-Americans elected to the General Assembly in the 19th century.

February is Black History Month. This bust of Sampson Keeble is displayed on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Keeble was the first African-American elected to the General Assembly in 1873. The bust also commemorates all of the African-Americans elected to the General Assembly in the 19th century.

Issues in Brief

Tuition Free College — An announcement was made Thursday that the application is open for adults to enroll tuition-free this fall at a community or technical college through Tennessee Reconnect. Tennessee Reconnect builds off the groundbreaking Tennessee Promise program which provides high school graduates two years of tuition-free community or technical college, by establishing a last-dollar scholarship for adults to earn an associate degree or technical certificate free of tuition or mandatory fees. Applicants can access information at TNReconnect.gov. The Tennessee Reconnect Act was passed by the General Assembly last year and was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must not already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree, must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year, and be determined as an independent student on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Out-of-State Teachers / Licensing — The Senate Education Committee approved a bill this week that would address regulatory hurdles faced by high performing teachers licensed in other states who want to teach here. Although Tennessee has reciprocity with numerous states, out-of-state licensees face additional administrative burdens which can be discouraging to many of these qualified educators. Senate Bill 1804, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), removes an assessment requirement for those who hold a license in a reciprocal state as long as they have received evaluations of above expectations or significantly above expectations in each of their first two years in Tennessee. The bill aims to address teacher shortages and encourage the recruitment of high quality teachers.

Tennessee Songwriters Week — The Senate approved a bill on Thursday designating the last full week of February each year as Tennessee Songwriters Week. Senate Bill 2254, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), recognizes the contributions of past and present songwriters which share in the economic success of Tennessee’s booming tourism industry. Last year, tourism generated $19.3 billion in Tennessee and $1.7 billion in state and local taxes. .

Tanning Beds / Youth — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted this week in favor of legislation that seeks to protect the health of young persons who utilize tanning beds. Currently, teenagers over age 14 can go to a tanning bed without permission from their parents. Senate Bill 1495, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R–Gallatin), requires that individuals 16 to 18 years old be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian in order to use a tanning bed for the first time. Those under the age of 16 would be prohibited. Melanoma is the second most prevalent kind of cancer in females ages 15 to 29. In 2009, the World Health Organization elevated tanning beds classification as a carcinogen to the same category as cigarettes.

Teachers / Non-graded Subjects — Final approval was given to legislation this week which helps to ensure that the work done by teachers in non-graded subjects is evaluated fairly. Currently, these teachers must accept a school-wide grade for which they have little or no control. Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), requires Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to adopt at least one alternative appropriate growth model approved by the State Board of Education by the 2019-20 academic school years in order to provide individual growth scores. An example alternative growth model would be a portfolio in an art class that a teacher would create for each student in order to show the development of that child in whatever art principles were being taught. “This seeks to provide fairness to these teachers by allowing them to show the work that they have done individually that demonstrates their students’ growth,” said Gresham.

Cell Phones in Prisons — A resolution which seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates has met final approval in the State Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 492, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.” There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year. Cell phones have been used by prisoners to stalk victims, threaten witnesses, arrange the murder of our correctional officers, or to continue gang activity or criminal enterprises — all from behind bars. The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.

Recovery Schools – The full Senate gave final approval to legislation which authorizes Local Education Agencies (LEA) to create recovery high schools for certain students with alcohol or drug abuse dependency like Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Major Depressive Episode (MDE). Senate Bill 1626, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), authorizes LEAs that open recovery schools to enroll eligible students, including those who are in another county. It will also allow LEAs to collaborate with other school districts to establish a school to serve their students. Introduction into a recovery high school would be voluntary under the bill. Research shows students who attend treatment and go back into their normal high school have about a 70 percent chance of relapse.

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