Category Archives: alcohol

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.

Anti-DUI campaign, scrapped as sexist, cost $456K

The final invoices are in for the controversial state anti-DUI campaign that many called sexist and the cost was more than $450,000, reports The Tennessean.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Office apologized for the campaign in mid-July and took down its website after coming under intense criticism for the slogans — including those that referred to girls looking “hotter” to guys under the influence and being “chatty” or “clingy.”

The office said materials distributed in bars and restaurants — including fliers, coasters, tents and other items — cost $77,096 to produce. But the actual costs were much higher.

Documents obtained by The Tennessean through a public records request show that those materials represented only a portion of the campaign’s total cost. Office Director Kendell Poole said Wednesday the projected budget for the campaign, including television and radio ads, video production and design expenses, was $725,934.49. By the time the state halted the campaign, $456,923 had been spent, he said. The extra costs for television advertising and other expenses was first reported by WSMV-TV.

The 306 pages released detail the development of the campaign and the correspondence between state officials and Jay Sokolow Sr., vice president and account supervisor for The Tombras Group, the Knoxville marketing firm paid to create it.

The documents indicate the slogans, drinking stories and materials many would later find offensive were vetted and at times praised by GHSO officials, who often approved the material with such comments as “looks good” and “love it.”

In one section of the campaign’s website called “Legends of the Stall,” behaviors such as binge drinking, promiscuity and cleaning up vomit with a cat are among the activities of featured graffiti characters who, at the end of the night, choose not to drive home drunk.

Rep. Butt’s son charged with providing alcohol to a minor

Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland says state Rep. Sheila Butt’s son, Cliff, was arrested Thursday on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for buying alcohol for an underage student, reports the Columbia Daily Herald.

Cliff Butt, 40, was jailed on the misdemeanor and released after posting a $1,500 bond, according to Maury County Sheriff’s Department records.

Acting through a tip, police investigated allegations that Butt provided alcohol to a minor during a recent prom party, Rowland said. Butt turned himself in to authorities and was arrested.

“He had purchased alcohol for some underage individuals for a party, is my understanding,” Rowland said. “At that time, our detectives had enough information, they went forward with charging Mr. Butt with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

The sheriff could not confirm the person’s age and said he only knew that it was a juvenile. (Note: The Tennessean reports the youth’s age as 17.)

Rowland also said the incident “could” be related to recent suspensions of Columbia Academy students who were reprimanded for underage drinking.

The Daily Herald waited to speak with Butt at the Maury County Jail Thursday where most inmates enter and exit the facility. After more than an hour, a corrections officer said Butt had left the building through the front doors.

Rowland later approached The Daily Herald and said Butt knew the media was waiting outside and asked to leave through an alternate route — a request the sheriff granted.

…Rep. Butt, R-Columbia, did not return multiple requests seeking comment, but did release a statement.

“Stan and I have been informed today by Maury County law enforcement that our 40 year old son, Cliff, is going to be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. We sympathize with the parents of the young people involved. We would feel the same way,” Butt said in the statement. “We are like every other family and have tried to raise our children to make wise choices. As a grown man, we love our son and will pray for him and for the families involved. However, we do not condone this behavior and he will have to bear the consequences of his actions.”

He was very forthcoming and willing to cooperate,” Rowland said.

The sheriff said at least 20 teens attended the party, many of whom attend Columbia Academy. The school suspended several students for drinking alcohol, according to an incident report. But Rowland said a mother ultimately tipped off deputies to the situation.

“If we don’t protect our juveniles, who will?” Rowland asked.

The incident report indicates Butt and the male student are acquaintances, but Rowland did not elaborate on their relationship. Butt is not an employee of the school, according to James Thomas, the president of Columbia Academy. Thomas said the incident happened at an off-campus location.

“We remain committed to upholding our standards and the ideals at Columbia Academy,” Thomas said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Officers said Butt’s family connections makes little difference in this case.

“He’ll be treated no differently than anybody else,” Rowland said.

Read more:

Trooper punished for ride home (with another trooper) after drinking alcohol

A Tennessee Highway Patrol lieutenant will serve a one-day suspension without pay for calling an on-duty trooper to give her and several others a ride home from a night out drinking after a University of Tennessee football game in October, reports the News Sentinel.

The investigation into Lt. Stacey Heatherly’s actions was launched after the state Department of Safety received an anonymous complaint letter in February that identified her among a group of people who were seen drinking alcohol at Calhoun’s On The River in Knoxville on Oct. 26, 2014, before calling a colleague for a ride home.

“That removes the troopers that should be out there looking for drunk drivers, because they have to give rides to other troopers,” according to the anonymous complaint, a copy of which was provided to the News Sentinel by the Department of Safety.

“I hope no one was killed by a drunk driver that night because the trooper was playing taxi.”

Heatherly, along with her husband, Trooper Michael Heatherly; Trooper Jason Sherrod and Amanda Sherrod subsequently caught a ride home from on-duty THP Sgt. Jeffrey Appleba, according to a disciplinary letter signed April 20 by Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, per recommendation by THP Capt. Jessie Brooks.

“Being the highest ranking departmental person in the group caused the others to follow your lead,” the letter states in reference to Heatherly.

House kills bill banning alcohol sales to those with three or more DUIs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A House panel has defeated a proposal to ban alcohol sales to people with three or more drunken driving convictions.

The House budget subcommittee rejected the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. John Holsclaw Jr. on a voice vote on Tuesday. The companion bill had been awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

The bill (HB744) would have required the words “No Alcohol Sales” be printed on the license of people with at least three DUI convictions for between five and 15 years.

The measure would have required affected drivers to pay the $12 to include the language on their licenses. Critics noted that the bill would not affect alternative ID like passports and that separate legislation seeks to do away with universal carding requirements for people who look over 50.

List of some miscellaneous bills legislators dealt with last week

To go along with listings of legislation to be dealt with in the final week of the 2015 General Assembly session (previous post HERE), here’s a list of some bills dealt with last week that perhaps didn’t get a lot of attention.

Given final approval and sent to the governor:

Repealing sprinkler ordinances
HB787, which would repeal all local government ordinances requiring sprinklers in multi-residence townhomes. As amended, it allows a city council or county commission to reinstate local sprinkler ordinances by a two-thirds majority vote – though many fire department representatives, including one from Knoxville, still opposed the measure. The measure supported by the Tennessee Homebuilders Association was approved 23-5 in the Senate; 74-18 in the House — with no votes generally coming from Democrats. Sponsors were Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.

Wildlife killing penalties
HB1185, which substantially increases penalties for illegally killing a deer, bear, wild turkey or elk. It has a detailed list of fines — labeled “restitution” in the bill — depending on the animal killed, but in general they can go into thousands of dollars compared to a $200 minimum fine in most cases under current law. Final approval came after resolving a House-Senate difference on the bear penalty. As it wound up, it’s $3,000 for any bear illegally killed plus $3,500 extra if the bear was a cub or a female bear with cubs. The House approved 89-9; the Senate 28-3.

Buzzard killing decriminalized
SB204, which decriminalizes the killing of black vultures insofar as Tennessee law goes, though it’s still a crime under federal law unless the buzzard slayer has a special federal permit. The Tennessee Cattlemen Association says black buzzards have been killing newborn calves, goats and sheep statewide and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, showed a committee pictures of a reported $25,000 in damage caused to a home by the birds. The bill passed the House 95-1 with Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, as sponsor. The Senate vote was 31-2.

Powdered alcohol banned
HB374, which outlaws — as a misdemeanor — the sale of “powdered alcohol” in Tennessee. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved distribution of a powdered alcohol product known as Palcohol, which can be mixed with water to create an alcoholic beverage that Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, a sponsor, says is not covered under current state laws or Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations. The bill was approved 31-1 in the Senate and 92-0 in the House.

‘Right to Try Act’
SB811, entitled the “Tennessee Right to Try Act.” Pushed nationally by the Goldwater Institute and already approved in six other states, the measure authorizes doctors to write prescriptions for experimental drugs that have not received final approval from by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with incurable illnesses. Both chambers approved the bill unanimously, though the Senate added an amendment — requiring two doctors, not just one — to certify that a patient’s illness is incurable under medications otherwise available. House approval of the amendment is virtually certain. Sponsors are Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.

Federal spending sought, condemned
The annually approved “voluntary assessment fee” for Tennessee hospitals, designed to trigger more federal funding through TennCare to the state’s health care centers, won approval of both chambers with little debate. The fee is 4.52 percent of a hospital’s revenues, generating $450 million in revenue within the state that winds up producing $1.3 billion in payments to the hospitals that pay it because of the resulting federal match money. It was approved 33-0 in the Senate; 91-2 in the House.

A similar levy on nursing homes (HB151) — though based on the number of beds a home maintains rather than revenues — was also approved by a unanimous Senate vote and the House is expected to go along Monday with near-unanimous approval. The nursing home levy brings in $107 million in state funds and the federal government then adds almost $200 million with the combined total then paid to nursing homes, according to legislative staff estimates for the coming year.

SJR67, which would add Tennessee to the list of states seeking a federal constitutional convention to impose limits on federal spending, won 23-5 approval in the Senate on Thursday, though it still awaits action in the House. Debate included Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, suggesting that it was ironic to see Republicans roundly denouncing federal spending after approving unanimously bills that will add to federal spending.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, somewhat agreed in responding to Kyle’s comments.

“There is no shortage of hypocrisy in the General Assembly. I’ll acknowledge that,” Norris said, noting that about 43 percent of the state’s $33 billion budget is funded by the federal government.

Still, Norris joined sponsor Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in arguing that a state-triggered constitutional convention would be a reasonable means of moving to curb “out-of-control” federal spending and reducing the federal deficit.

Highway Patrol will ‘proactively enforce DUI laws’ for St. Patrick’s day (with no quotas)

News release from Department of Safety and Homeland Security:
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Colonel Tracy Trott today announced that state troopers will increase visibility and traffic safety enforcement efforts during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. The 48-hour traffic safety campaign will begin at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, March 17 and conclude at midnight, Wednesday, March 18.

“St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a very festive holiday, and we want to remind motorists that drinking and driving will not be tolerated. State troopers will proactively enforce DUI laws to help prevent fatal crashes and save lives across Tennessee,” Colonel Trott said. “Seat belt safety is also a top priority. We will aggressively seek seat belt violators – another major cause of traffic fatalities – across the state,” he added.

Last year, four people were killed in vehicular crashes during the 48-hour St. Patty’s Day holiday period. One of the traffic fatalities occurred in an alcohol-related crash, while none of the four individuals killed were wearing safety restraints.

The THP arrested 54 individuals on suspicion of impaired driving and issued 416 seat belt citations statewide during last year’s St. Patty’s Day holiday period.

During this St. Patrick’s holiday, state troopers will utilize traffic enforcement tools, such as, sobriety and seat belt checkpoints, saturation patrols and bar and tavern checks to maximize public safety on Tennessee roadways.

To date, preliminary statistics indicate that 157 people have died on Tennessee roadways in 2015, compared to 171 traffic fatalities during the same time period in 2014.

Note: THP scheduled enforcement areas and times for this St. Patrick’s Day holiday are HERE and statistical data for the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day period is HERE.

Note II: The enforcement comes with the Johnson City Press continuing a series of stories quoting state troopers, most speaking anonymously, who say the Highway Patrol has a quota system for DUI arrests. The latest story was Sunday, HERE, with Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons denying a quota system but defending the patrol emphasis on DUI. An excerpt:

“Number one, our top priority in the Highway Patrol is to reduce traffic fatalities. We’re doing that through data-driven, proactive enforcement. By data-driven I mean we are using data to make sure we are deploying our road troopers in the right places at the right time based on where significant crashes and fatalities have occurred. Then we’re urging them to be proactive in enforcing our traffic laws, whether it be speeding or driving at night without lights on or whatever it is,” Gibbons said.

Put those together “it’s not surprising that we are going to have significant increases in DUI arrest, seatbelt citations, citations for other violations. That’s going to be the logical product of that, and that’s what we want,” Gibbons said.

House votes to ban DUI on ‘any street or alley’ as well as ‘public roads and highways’

The House has unanimously approved and sent to the Senate a Haslam administration bill that makes “technical corrections” the state’s DUI law.

Lifted from a Commercial Appeal report on some advancing legislation:

Present law declares that it’s unlawful to drive or be in physical control of any motor vehicle “on any of the public roads and highways of the state, any shopping center, trailer park, apartment house complex or any other location which is generally frequented by the public at large while under the influence” of any intoxicant.

HB 99 by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, adds “any street or alley” to public roads and highways and the other places where driving under the influence is unlawful.

Also under present law, a person driving a commercial motor vehicle is considered driving under the influence if his or her blood alcohol content is 0.04 percent. The bill clarifies that it’s 0.04 or more. (For driving a non-commercial vehicle, it’s 0.08 percent or more.)

Similarly, current law requires a person with first-time conviction for DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent to serve a minimum of seven consecutive days and, as a condition of probation, remove litter from public property or roads for 24 hours. The bill clarifies that this provision applies to a person whose blood alcohol content is 0.20 percent or more.

Senate votes to outlaw powdered alcohol

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE) — Legislation that would ban the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Tennessee was given final approval by the Tennessee Senate today. Senate Bill 374, would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to sell the product.

It was announced that Palcohol, which is the brand name for the new product, was approved by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau this week. When mixed with water the powdered alcohol becomes a cocktail. It is being promoted as a product that can be easily transported by the consumer.

“The powdered alcohol product is creating concern nationwide that it would be an easy and accessible target for abuse by underage drinkers, including the possibility of being snorted,” said Senator Ketron. “There is also concern that the product could be misused by adults if it is sprinkled onto someone’s food or in their drink without the other person’s knowledge.”

“It could easily be over-consumed by a person not knowing how much to dilute it by, by eating it undiluted, or by mixing it with an existing alcohol to create a drink with an unknown potency. This would greatly increase the risk of over-drinking and alcohol poisoning,” Ketron added.

Powdered alcohol products would not be defined as an alcoholic beverage under current Tennessee law because it is not a liquid and would be free from regulation by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. This means it could be sold directly to minors in grocery stores, over the Internet, or in any other location.

“In addition, powdered alcohol could create liability issues for owners of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, as the accessibility of the product and the ease in which it can be snuck into an establishment could unintentionally lead to the illegal over-serving of a customer by the establishment,” he continued.

Thirteen states have enacted similar legislation banning powdered alcohol.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives where it is scheduled to be heard in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday.

UPDATE/NOTE: TNReport observes that the action marks “a noteworthy instance of common agreement with New York’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer” by the Tennessee’s GOP Supermajority and has more detail on the product and the movement to ban it HERE.

THP commander: Lots of troopers don’t make DUI arrests, showing there’s no quota

The commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tracy Trott, has moved to refute contentions that there is a DUI arrest quota for state troopers, as several officers have told the Johnson City Press. In an interview reported by the newspaper today, Trott said nearly 30 percent of all state troopers didn’t have a single DUI arrest in 2014.

“That means 280 troopers did not have a DUI arrest at all,” Trott said, adding that he believes it’s a “small group of disgruntled employees,” who have talked to the Press. “You’re being directed to a small group of people that are disgruntled and may have a difference in the way we conduct our business. I can produce 600 people that would tell you there are no DUI quotas, that they like the focus and mission we do and the way that we do it, how they are treated and how they’re recognized for the work that they do.”

The list might not be a completely accurate interpretation of the number of troopers who didn’t make an arrest because of the 803 troopers statewide, 247 are ranking officers with responsibilities other than patrolling the roads. Some ranking officers may make DUI arrests, but others do not.

Ticket quotas are specifically prohibited by state law.

Tennessee Code Annotated 39-16-516 states that no agency of the state can formally or informally implement a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate or discipline officers on the basis of issuing a certain number of traffic citations during any specified period of time. More than a dozen state troopers say that’s exactly what’s happening within the THP, while Trott maintains it isn’t true.

“You can go to every district in the state and there will be a small group of people who disagree with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. But the majority of troopers like the way we’re doing things. They like the focus that we have in saving lives and I think you’re just dealing with a small group of people,” he said.

Initially, two state troopers agreed to talk to the Press on the condition of anonymity about the allegations of DUI arrest quotas. After an article ran about the issue, five more troopers came forward. After a second article ran, more calls and emails came in confirming the existence of quotas.

Still, Trott denies the allegations and even sent his command staff an email on Monday stressing the point that trooper are not subject to a quota on DUI arrests.

In part, the email read: “We do not have DUI quotas and never will. In our district visits across the state, Commissioner Gibbons and I have both made that point consistently. In my tenure, no state trooper has been given a number of DUI arrests that he or she is required to make. Last year, Troopers made everything from zero to over 160 DUI arrests. There has never been an ISB (internal affairs) case over the quantity or quality of DUI arrests.”

But Trott is unapologetic about the concentrated mission of the THP, which he said has translated into a steady increase in DUI arrests over the last several years. He said there was a change in the approach to traffic enforcement when Gov. Bill Haslam took office and appointed Bill Gibbons as the commissioner for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The THP is a division of the Department of Safety.

…“We’ve had the safest four-year period in over 50 years, so our strategy and our priorities are working.” Trott said.

…Trott maintains that his goal is not to force troopers to make DUI arrests, but to encourage them to do so in order to keep reducing the number of alcohol-related fatalities in the state, and to increase seatbelt usage.

“We’ve gone about for the last four years preaching to our troopers, preaching to the public, preaching to anyone that would listen to us that these are our top two enforcement areas priority-wise. We don’t set numbers on what they have to do or how many tickets or arrests they have to make. But we emphasize it day in and day out because that is the way to make Tennessee a safer state.”

As for the overtime shifts available because of federal grant money, Trott said there are specific “enforcement goals” the agency must submit when applying for those funds. To attain those goals it is necessary to use troopers who have a proven track record in making DUI arrests, he said.

“We give it to the people who show they can work in that area and be successful,” Trott said. “There are plenty of drunk drivers out there to be arrested if people will do the work.”