Vote delayed on changing DUI, drug possession penalties

The sponsor of a bill aimed to increase penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and decrease the punishment for those found carrying small amounts of drugs pulled back the measure on Thursday amid questions from his House colleagues.

further from The Tennessean:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use — they don’t plan on delivering or selling it.

Lamberth’s bill also would increase the penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and carjackings.

The legislation, which received approval in four separate House committees, was set for a vote on Thursday but hit a barrier after lawmakers discussed the measure for nearly 40 minutes, which included two attempts to cut off debate.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill in two ways. His first amendment sought to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession; the second would have gutted the entire bill and made possession of marijuana a misdemeanor offense.

While both of Stewart’s amendments failed, the bill was altered to remove heroin from the conviction changes.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, said they supported the DUI aspects of the bill but were concerned about the portion pertaining to drugs.

“Throughout my entire life, I’ve been taught to temper justice with mercy,” Lamberth said, while defending the bill. He noted that those with three or more simple possession convictions would actually face more jail time than they do today, but a felony would not be on their record.