House Passes Bill Increasing Domestic Violence Penalties

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The House on Wednesday passed Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions.
The chamber voted 98-1 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, despite objections from some lawmakers that the measure could be seen as an unfunded mandate for local governments.
“This cost is going to be passed on to local governments, and I don’t know about y’all, but I told my people that I won’t do them like the feds do the state,” said Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, who voted against the bill.
Haslam earlier this month brokered an agreement with the representatives of local governments to break an impasse over the domestic abuse measure. Under the deal, the state will increase the reimbursement to local jails by $2 dollars per day, at a total annual price tag of about $4 million.

Haslam’s bill was amended in committee to make the mandatory sentence for a second conviction 30 days — the same as for a first conviction. The Republican governor had originally called for 45-day sentences for the second conviction.
A third conviction would carry a mandatory 120-day sentence.
Coley said Haslam’s budget includes enough direct and indirect funding for local governments to cover more than half of the $8.1 million projected cost of the added penalties for domestic violence.
Coley noted that the bill does not take into account added savings of fewer hospital visits by victims of abuse. He also said the measure would have a deterrent effect.
“I know there is a minor a burden on some counties, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs,” Coley said.
Republican Rep. Don Miller of Morristown said he supported the bill, but called on Haslam to come back next year to “really fund the real cost” of the bill.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, noted that the State Funding Board has not yet met this year to acknowledge the increasing revenues available to the state.
“We have money in the bank, over the $100 million, that’s unrestricted,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason why this bill could not have been funded completely.”
The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate before the measure can head for the governor’s signature.
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