Tag Archives: penalties

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.

On Making the Punishment Fit the Profession, Not the Crime

Enhancing criminal penalties has long been a favored pursuit of lawmakers, the major restraint on this inclination being the cost to taxpayers of locking up the wrongdoers and provisions of state law and legislative rules that say the enhanced spending must be covered in the state budget.
An interesting debate back in the 2013 legislative session, worthy of more attention than it received as us media types focused on stuff deemed more interesting in the fast-action session, concerned what may be seen an evolution of compromise in this inherent conflict.
That is, enhance the punishment, but only when the victim is a member of a chosen profession.
The chosen professional victims in this year’s session were doctors, nurses and other health care providers in one bill (HB306) and firefighters and emergency workers in another (SB66). Starting July 1, the effective date of both new laws, if you, for example, punch an on-the-job paramedic (covered by both laws), the maximum penalty upon conviction of assault will be more severe than if you punched a preacher, a retired grandmother or a newspaper reporter.

Continue reading

Ethics Commission Levies $10K Penalties Against 3 Planning Commissioners

The Tennessee Ethics Commission has decided against penalizing 28 planning commissioners around the state who filed financial disclosures late, while voting to levy fines of $10,000 each against three who failed to file any report at all.
City, county and regional planning commissioners were not required to file the financial disclosure statements demanded of most local government officials until this year. A bill passed by the Legislature last year mandated the filings for the first time and they were due Jan. 31.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, had some difficulty in notifying planning commissioners around the state of the new law since it appears there is no listing of all in any one place. And he said that some planning commissioners — many of whom serve on a voluntary, unpaid basis — apparently resigned rather than file a statement listing their financial interests.
“We’ve had several planning commissioners call and say, ‘I’m resigning. I’m not going to file’,” he told the commission.
Later, Rawlins said staff did not keep a record of how many such calls were received.
“It might not have been more than 10 or 15,” he said. “Some just called and cussed us out. … They were not happy about doing this.”
Rawlins and the commissioners said during their discussion that, given the requirement was new, those who filed after the deadline — some more than two months late — would simply get a letter saying the commission would take no action, but they would be subject to penalty for late filing if late again next year. The penalty for late filing can be up to $25 per day.
On the other hand, those who had received a notice of the law and never filed a report despite follow-up letters after the deadline had passed, will face the maximum penalty for failure to file, $10,000.
The three who now face $10,000 civil penalties, according to commission documents, are Mike Floyd of the Maury County Planning Commission, Carroll Cate of the Polk County Planning Commission and Cindy Marlow of the Adamsville Planning Commission. They will get letters later this week advising them of the penalty.
If the three now file a disclosure form and offer an apology or explanation, they can ask the commission to reconsider the penalty. People in that situation traditionally can have the penalty reduced substantially or eliminated.
“They (commissioners) are trying to get their attention,” said Rawlins.
State Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have exempted planning commissioners in their area from filing a disclosure, but later withdrew the measure.

Sunday Column: Ruffled Feathers in the Legislature’s Cockfighting Arena

Tennessee legislators have been fighting over cockfighting for decades and, as with many morality matters in our state and elsewhere, the squawking boils down to whether traditional values or emerging values prevail in the pecking order of our collective consciousness.
That collective consciousness, of course, is reflected in the people we elect as our state representatives and senators, and what they can agree upon without ruffling too many feathers. It does not involve a question of which came first, as with the chicken or the egg.
The traditionalists came first. Andrew Jackson raised fighting roosters. He also had slaves. There’s an obvious and monumental difference, of course: human beings versus animals. The fate of chickens is irrelevant, inconsequential trivia in comparison to slavery.
And remember that Andy Jackson relied upon a well-armed state militia, composed of citizens with a right to bear arms, in defeating the Creek Indians and, later, the British at New Orleans. In that respect, his traditional view prevails somewhat today in our state’s collective consciousness as reflected by our pro-gun Legislature.
But, well, cockfighting is a matter of debate. Maybe as high up there as such major controversies as whether wine can be sold in grocery stores or whether guns can be kept in cars, just to pluck a couple of issues from among many wherein lobbyists are spurred into what passes these days for mortal combat in Legislatorland.

Continue reading

Cockfighting: Another Round of Ruffled Feathers & Squawking?

The 2013 version of legislation to increase penalties for cockfighting in Tennessee on Wednesday cleared a House subcommittee where it has died in previous years – though not without opposition.
Under the bill by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, cockfighting would remain a misdemeanor on first offense, but the minimum fine would increase from $50 to $500. On second offense, cockfighting would be a felony punishable by one to six years in prison.
Last year’s version called for a felony classification on first offense and set the minimum fine at $2,500. The measure cleared a Senate committee, but died in the House Agriculture Subcommittee.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee, with a somewhat changed makeup from the previous legislative session, approved the bill on voice vote Wednesday. Two members, Republican Reps. Andy Holt of Dresden and Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, had themselves recorded as voting no. (Note/Update: Also, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, voted no — though he had not been listed as doing so when the roll call was initially checked.)
Matheny said “a lot of people in my area – I don’t know that they’re cockfighting – raise roosters” and that he generally believes the Legislature “has better things to worry about than what to do with the lowly chicken.”

Continue reading

Registry of Election Finance: Legislators Like It, Others Question Effectiveness

State legislators seem pleased on a bipartisan basis with the way Tennessee’s campaign finance watchdog agency performs, but one concerned citizen, Mike Hart, wonders if that’s not the equivalent of foxes being pleased with oversight of the hen house.
That agency, the Registry of Election Finance, on Wednesday will be dealing with a complaint from News Sentinel contributing columnist Pam Strickland over “irregularities” in financial disclosures of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
“They are accessible, responsive to questions and they seem to be well-organized,” says Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who serves as Senate speaker pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. “They just run a good operation.”
“They’re not set up over there to do witch hunts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. “They try to accommodate candidates who, they understand, can make mistakes. They’re going to make sure you get it right, but they’re not going to persecute you.”

Continue reading

Unpaid Fines Making Penalties Pointless for Many in TN

A new legislative report shows the severity of fines imposed by Tennessee courts has been eroded by inflation over the past 22 years, but some involved in the process say that really doesn’t make much difference.
“I’m not sure the amount of the fine is important anymore,” said Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. “What difference does it make if the fine is $50 or $100 if it’s not going to be paid anyway?”
A law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year calls for revoking the driver’s license of anyone who does not pay his or her fines and court costs, starting next year. Whether that helps or hurts the situation is the subject of some debate.
But as things stand now, Nichols said, the fines imposed for convictions on charges ranging from traffic offenses to robberies are becoming increasingly meaningless. Data collected by the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee would appear to support that assertion.
In estimating the impact of the license revocation legislation, the committee staff reported that, based on 2009 figures, there were 328,000 persons statewide ordered to pay fines and court costs and that about 75 percent, or 246,000, did not pay them. Officials involved say the non-payment level has, if anything,, probably increased since then because of economic conditions.
In a new report released last week, the committee staff reviewed the impact of inflation on fines. The fine for most offenses were established by law in 1989, the year that the state’s criminal code was completely overhauled and updated.

Continue reading

Bill Would Raise Penalties for Felons With Guns (but it won’t pass)

The Tennessean reports that crimes with guns appear on the increase, leading to a push in the Legislature for increased penalties for use of firearms during commission felonies. The story notes that federal law already provides much longer sentences for use of guns in crimes.
But only a fraction of gun cases, typically no more than 100 or so, makes it to federal court in Middle Tennessee in a given year. Martin said his office has limited resources and tries to focus on the worst offenders and gang cases.
To that end, the proposed state legislation pushed by police and prosecutors would increase sentences in state court of felons found with guns by a year or two in prison for most offenders to two to four years for drug felons and three to six years for violent felons.

Note: The article doesn’t give a bill number or a sponsor, but is apparently referring to SB692/HB1226 by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect. The bill was introduced in February and has never been put on notice for a hearing. Ergo, it’s dead for the year. The first step toward passage would be in the House Judiciary Subcommittee, which is closed for the year.

Revised Bill Puts Cockfighting Fine at $2,500

Legislation to make cockfighting a felony in Tennessee has been revised to instead declare it a Class A misdemeanor on first offense with a minimum $2,500 fine.
As things stand now, the typical fine for spectators at a cockfight is $50. That provides little deterrent, proponents of the bill say, and in fact makes Tennessee an increasingly popular place to hold events since cockfighting is a felony in most neighboring states.
“It seems to make us a mecca,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, sponsor of SB785.
As originally introduced, Ketron’s bill called for making the crime a felony in Tennessee as well. That led to legislative staff estimating that it would cost the state $618,000 per year to lock up those convicted of a felony. An amendment makes those organizing a cockfight, participating in one or simply being spectators all subject to a $2,500 minimum fine — but no jail time. Those convicted of a second offense, however, would be subject to a felony conviction.
The revision lowers the estimated cost to the state to just $55,000 for housing the projected felony convicts, which supporters hope will improve prospects for passage.

Continue reading

Lawmakers Approve Lower Penalties for ‘Knowing’ Insurance Law Violations

The Senate has approved and sent to the governor a bill that will reduce the maximum civil penalty for “knowing” violations of state insurance laws from $25,000 per occurrence to $1,000 per occurrence.
The bill, HB1845, also establishes a two-year deadline for the state insurance commissioner’s office to complete an investigation of wrongdoing once it is underway and five-year deadline for launching an investigation after state officials “reasonably should have know” the offense occurred.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who are both insurance agents.
It passed the House 96-0 on Monday with no debate or discussion on the floor beyond Sargent’s brief description of the measure – not including mention of the penalty provisions – and his declaration that “all worked out” with the Department of Commerce and Insurance.
On the Senate floor Thursday, however, Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, attacked the bill as an “unprecedented” move to “hamstring the (insurance) commissioner” in protecting consumers against insurance agents and underwriters who deliberately break the law.

Continue reading