Sponsors say Tennessee will become the 18th state in the nation to require first-time drunken driving offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle under legislation approved by both the House and Senate on Tuesday.
The bill first passed the House 95-0 under sponsorship of Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, then passed the Senate later in the day 31-0. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it.
Under current law, only repeat DUI offenders or first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher can be required to install an interlock device. The bill (HB353) lowers the threshold to .08 blood alcohol content, the same level required to create a legal presumption of driving under the influence.
The devices require a driver to take a breath test for alcohol before starting a vehicle, which will not start if any alcohol is detected.
While required to have an interlock device installed, DUI offenders do not have to go through a year’s suspension of their license as the case under present law. Beavers said the effect is to allow them to be “getting their lives back together” while at the same time protecting the public by preventing drunken driving.
“With this bill, we know we can reduce the number of deaths on our highways,” said Beavers on the Senate floor with Shipley at her side.
Other states that have mandated interlock devices for first offenders have seen a 30 percent decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, Beavers said, and a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that those required to have an interlock device are 67 percent less likely to become a repeat offender.
In an echo of state Senate action Wednesday, a House resolution has been filed saying that body intends to ask for the state investigative file into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, filed HR 60, which states the intent of the House Criminal Justice Committee to review results of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s four-month investigation. The Senate passed a similar resolution Wednesday.
The lawmakers’ action this week follows the release last week of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s long-awaited report on the TBI investigation he commissioned in August.
The TBI and comptroller’s office probed allegations raised in a Chattanooga Times Free Press series and elsewhere of financial and prosecutorial misconduct in Bebb’s office, among other issues. Cooper’s report found that Bebb used poor judgment and mismanaged the office but stated that there were no prosecutable criminal charges against him.
Shipley, who sits on the House Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that the General Assembly has oversight authority over district attorneys general.
“Therefore we have responsibility to make a fully informed decision and determine if further action by this body is warranted,” Shipley said.
The chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee is Cleveland Republican Eric Watson.
In a statement through Shipley’s office Thursday, Watson recused himself from the resolution and review.
“Rep. Watson is part of the law enforcement community in the affected judicial district. He has therefore removed himself from the process,” according to the statement.
House lawmakers didn’t vote on the resolution Thursday. It could come up next week.
A bill to reduce the amount of some medications that can be sold without a prescription is dead for the year, reports the News Sentinel. House Bill 617 would’ve reduced the amount of pseudoephedrine cold medication that can be purchased as part of the fight against meth. It unanimously passed out of a House Health Committee on Wednesday, but was stopped in the Senate when it was sent to the General Subcommittee, officials said.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who sponsored the bill, expects it to pass the House. He said he then would most likely lay the bill on his desk until the next session so the Senate can reconsider it.
“When it got parked in the Senate General Subcommittee, I almost cried,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to get our hands around this.”
Meth is made using household chemicals such as drain cleaner and lantern fuel to break down pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in some popular cold and sinus pills. The process also creates toxic waste and can cause explosions and fires. Individuals get around limits by “smurfing” or using fake identification to make multiple pseudoephedrine purchases.
Current state law allows individuals to purchase 300 pills or 12 packs with 9 grams of pseudoephedrine per month, Shipley said.
HB617 would reduce the allowable amount to 240 pills or 10 packs with 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine per month, he said.
“That’s still a lot of pills. The average person takes less than 24 pills in a year,” he said. “We’re not inconveniencing anyone but meth dealers.”
Legislation requiring a prescription to buy some cold medications has been stalled in a House subcommittee as lawmakers seek a middle ground between law enforcement officers pushing the proposal as a means to combat methamphetamine production and pharmacists opposing it as an unnecessary inconvenience to consumers.
The bill (HB368) would apply to Sudafed, Advil Cold and other products containing pseudoephedrine, which is used in illegal production of methamphetamine. Sponsor Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week the measure is needed because previous legislative efforts — including harsher penalties for meth producers and a record-keeping system for sales of the medications — have not worked to control meth.
“The cost to society is millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “Families are being destroyed. People are dying because of this.”
Oregon and Mississippi have mandated that “meth precursors” be sold by prescription only, Hawk said, and meth production in those states has declined “dramatically.”
But with Hawk’s assent, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, announced the bill is being “taken off notice” and will be held without action while alternatives are explored. Shipley said he and other legislators met with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials, who support the measure, and “we were not persuaded this is the approach we need to take.”
State prisons are packed, the inmates who can’t fit in are filling up local jails, and the system for transitioning people out is losing credibility, reports Andrea Zelinski. But policy makers back on Capitol Hill have bigger appetites to stiffen punishments for criminals than to tackle the troubled corrections system that manages the people lawmakers want thrown in there. “Although it makes us feel good and it is an absolute necessity to lock people up, we’re losing the battle because we’re continuing to build more jails,” said (Rep.) Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican who pushes for tougher sentencing laws. “All we’re doing is perpetuating the problem and kicking the can down the road.”
The state’s 14 prisons are collectively at 98 percent capacity, with an overflow of about 5,000 inmates serving some, if not all, of their time at local jails while they wait for a prison bed to open up, according to the Department of Correction.
Gov. Bill Haslam noted the problem during his State of the State address last week. A recent study found that more than 600 violent crimes are committed per 100,000 people in Tennessee, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The figure is second only to Washington, D.C., with more than 1,200 crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
Among other things, a better education system will help chip away at the problem, Haslam said, but in the meantime, he promised more money to the corrections system. His $32.7 billion budget plan released last week includes spending more than $120 million new dollars to house inmates. That would help bring the department’s budget more than $900 million next year.
The governor also wants to spend $30.2 million to expand the not-yet-reopened Bledsoe Correctional Complex — formerly Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional Facility — in Pikeville, which will begin accepting some 1,500 inmates this spring. The two-year expansion project would add another 512 beds.
In the meantime, Haslam wants to divvy out nearly $42 million in checks to local jails for housing more state inmates this year than the state expected, plus another $48 million for the inmates who won’t fit next year.
Kingsport’s mayor and some other city officials “apparently have a strained relationship” with state Rep. Tony Shipley that stems from the lawmaker’s Republican primary battle last year with Alderman Ben Mallicote, according to the Kingsport Times-News.
The following is from a story appearing Friday: At the time, Mayor Dennis Phillips said of Mallicote, “hopefully you’ll be serving us in Nashville.” In addition, Phillips, Alderwoman Valerie Joh, the Kingsport Firefighters Association and the Kingsport Coalition of Police appeared in ads supporting Mallicote.
Carl Moore, a lobbyist and former state senator from Bristol, said in a recent interview that Mallicote’s announcement and Phillips’ endorsement upset Shipley, and that he overheard Shipley express some disturbing emotions concerning the BMA members who were supporting Mallicote.
“That morning I was in a cafeteria in Nashville and Tony came by and was upset about it,” Moore said. “(Shipley) said ‘I don’t understand why … I’ve tried to help them all I can do. I guess I can’t do anything else for them.’ It was very colorful language (Shipley) used and I’ve heard nothing since.”
Phillips said last week he has heard about some troubling comments made by Shipley.
“During and since the election, Tony has been very cold,” Phillips said. “I sent him an e-mail when the election was over, saying ‘I supported your opponent and you won and it’s in everyone’s best interest if we work together and I’d like to have lunch one day.’ I haven’t heard any response.”
Since the election, Phillips said there have been events in Kingsport that he thought Shipley would attend, but he has not, such as the public hearings held last month on the State Route 126 improvement project — the cornerstone of Shipley’s 2008 campaign.
…Responding in an e-mail Shipley said, “Over the past four years, I’ve been fortunate to build close working relationships with local and county officials throughout the 2nd District. Together, we’ve worked to strengthen DUI laws, address the dangers of ‘bath salts’ and improve infrastructure. We’ve done so with a common goal of improving the lives of Tennesseans, both in the city and county. I will continue to work with everyone who sets the importance of improvement in our community above political spats that don’t achieve progress for the people we represent.”
Vice Mayor Tom Parham said …”Shipley has strength and support in the Colonial Heights areas and there’s developed some animosity towards Kingsport, fueled by that election… It’s the city’s challenge to heal that rift. We must engage the people in Colonial Heights … to be new residents in the city and work very hard to include all of our elected representatives with our plans as we go forward.”
The News Sentinel reports on people who hold multiple positions in local government with Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens as the first example. In addition to his duties as mayor of the county’s largest city at a salary of $5,400 per year, Aikens serves as chairman of the Lenoir City Utilities Board, a post that pays $5,400 per year plus benefits. …He also works full time for the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. As chief deputy, he is second in command at a salary of $57,472 per year.
…When it comes to serving in office and working a taxpayer-funded job, there are only a few explicit limits under state law.
The County Technical Assistance Service, part of The University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service, was created by statute in 1973 to offer governing guidance to the state’s 95 counties.
According to CTAS Ethics guidelines, “countywide officeholders, such as the county mayor, sheriff, trustee, register, county clerk, or assessor of property, are statutorily prohibited from being nominated for or elected to membership in the county legislative body.”
The Tennessee attorney general has opined it is a direct conflict of interest for a county commissioner who is a county employee to vote on the budget that contains his salary.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody, a former consultant with CTAS, said he knows of no one in Tennessee who holds office under circumstances that violate Tennessee laws.
…Nashville Tea Party Leader Ben Cunningham said he believes it’s only a matter of time before leaders consolidating power in multiple offices begin to push the limits of their authority.
“Power corrupts. More than sex or drugs or anything else that you can think of,” he said.
Cunningham said he doesn’t believe the state’s laws are specific enough regarding potential conflicts of interest. The standard conflict of interest disclosure read by many elected officials before voting is not adequate, he said.
“They are saying, ‘It’s a conflict of interest. I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to do it anyways,'” he said.
The only cure for the situation, Cunningham said, is to get more citizens involved in the process, not just by voting but also by running for office themselves.
Linda Noe is an attorney and political activist in Hamblen County. Noe said she has been working to bring conflicts of interest to light.
“If we had term limits and a state law that only allows one job per person, that would help clean things up a lot,” she said.
Democrat Bruce Dotson wants Tennessee 2nd House District voters to know he is an honest, Christian gun owner who has worked hard all his life, reports Hank Hayes. But despite those assets, Dotson knows he’s a long shot to defeat GOP incumbent state Rep. Tony Shipley in the November general election in a Kingsport area district that leans heavily Republican.
Dotson, a retired mechanic and president of the AFL-CIO’s Upper East Central Labor Council, said he’s not getting monetary support from the Tennessee Democratic Party even though he is a member of the party’s executive committee.
“My race is not targeted (by TDP), which is not unusual for this end of the state,” Dotson noted. “In order to get help from the state party or even the state AFL-CIO, you have to prove you can win before they are willing to put a lot of money into it. The state AFL-CIO is going to put out some mailers, but those will go to union members.”
Dotson’s campaign reported having $1,782 cash on hand before the Aug. 2 primary election, when he won the Democratic nomination with about 500 votes. In contrast, Shipley reported having $18,256 cash on hand, including a number of political action committee contributions, before recording a 10-vote win in the GOP primary over former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote out of about 6,800 votes cast.
Dotson agreed with Shipley’s recent assertion that numerous Democrats voted in the Republican primary and almost propelled Mallicote to victory.
“What I’ve heard people say down through the years is ‘I’ll vote in the Republican primary, and I’ll vote for the weakest or worst candidate. That way we’ll have a better chance as Democrats,'” Dotson explained. “But I discourage that. What that does is you end up with … the worst candidate, and I don’t like to see that. I did have people tell me they did have people vote in the Republican primary — people I’ve got on a list as being Democrats. I’m sure that was a factor. And Mallicote was the best candidate.”
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey isn’t sold on state Rep. Tony Shipley’s call for closed primaries in the aftermath of Shipley’s 10-vote victory over former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote in the 2nd House District GOP primary. So begins a Hank Hayes story today. The rest of his report::
“I’m hesitant about that because we have gained (Republican) majorities in the state Senate and state House, and the way we’ve done that is literally hundreds of thousands of people across this state decide they are no longer Democrats and they want to be Republicans,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville. “When I came in the state House (in the 1990s), I’m not sure there were one or two Republicans serving west of the Tennessee River, and now it is almost all Republicans. I’m not sure we want to tell those (Democratic voters) they are not welcome in our party.”
Earlier this week, Shipley met with Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell to pitch the idea of closed primaries after his election review showed more than 1,200 GOP primary voters had previously voted in one or more Democratic primaries, and that he believed most were Democrats who voted for Mallicote.
Shipley, R-Kingsport, called his number a “guesstimate” although he didn’t have complete data from the Sullivan County Election Commission.
“The more accurate number would be a broad number from 200 to 2,000 (voters), but you can’t define it too precisely yet…” Shipley said. “We’re working on the numbers because we’re going to need it for closed primaries.”
Upset over reports of Democrats voting in GOP primaries earlier this month, some Republicans are reviving an previously-shelved effort to require party registration and closed primaries in future Tennessee elections.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Mark Winslow, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee, say they met Tuesday with House Speaker Beth Harwell to advocate the idea. Harwell, a former state Republican chairman who has previously opposed closed primaries, said she is now reconsidering the proposal.
But state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney voiced opposition to closed primaries Wednesday, saying the open system has led to GOP gains throughout the state and closure could slow or stop the trend of Democrats and independents moving into the Republican fold.
Shipley, who defeated challenger Ben Mallicote by 11 votes according to unofficial Aug. 2 primary returns, said a review of records of those casting ballots in the race shows that 1,262 voters had previously voted in one or more Democratic primaries. Shipley said he believes most were Democrats who voted for Mallicote.