By Lee Davis
Tennessee legislators have been busy these last few months compiling a seemingly never-ending stack of bills for Governor Bill Haslam's signature. This legislation will become law on July 1st. What are they? Well they cover a wide variety of concerns and some will affect criminal law, creating new crimes and escalating criminal penalties.
For example, one of the laws slated to go into affect on the 1st of July includes a provision that permits more people to request expungement of criminal convictions for mostly old and minor offenses--this legislation is remarkable in that it is well thought out and resolved a difficult problem. In the information age, how can someone clean up a minor problem from their past? Up to now you couldn't. Now a few select felonies and a wide array of misdemeanous will be permitted to be expunged from the records of first-time offenders.
Another law creates a fine for those that are found to have encouraged, advocated, urged or condoned students to engage in “gateway sexual activity.” Whatever that is. Educators found teaching a non abstinence-based sexual education curriculum can be punished with up to $500 in fines. In a school somewhere in Tennessee next year a parent is going to insist to a principal that a teacher should be reported for encouraging gateway sexual activity and fined. It is hard to imagine how the courts are supposed to figure out what the legislature intended with this sloppy piece of legislation--gateway sexual activity?
Here’s a run down of some of the important and bizarre additions to Tennessee criminal law:
SB3558 - This requires schools to include in their discipline codes a prohibition on students wearing any clothing on school grounds that exposes underwear or body parts in an indecent manner.
SB0074 – This bill makes it a Class C misdemeanor offense for any person to operate a motorcycle on municipal, county or state roads who is carrying a passenger whose feet are not on footpegs. The amendment specifies that the prohibition will not apply to persons riding in a motorcycle sidecar.
HB2466 – This bill is known as the “Ricky Otts Act” and requires an officer to arrest drivers involved in accidents resulting in serious bodily injury or death when such drivers lack a valid driver license and evidence of financial responsibility. The bill specifically prohibits the issuance of a citation in lieu of arrest in such circumstances.
HB2853 – This bill deals with sexual offenders and adds the offense of promoting prostitution to the list of sexual offenses requiring registration under the state sex offender registry. Similarly, HB3283 authorizes judges, after consideration of facts and circumstances surrounding the case, to require a person convicted of statutory rape for the first time to register as a sexual offender on the sexual offender and violent sexual offender registry.
HB2566 – This was passed in response to the outrage surrounding now disgraced judge Richard Baumgartner and says that elected and appointed public officials ineligible for diversion for criminal offenses committed in their official capacity or that involve the duties of their offices.
HB2749 – This DUI bill authorizes a judge to order the use of an ignition interlock device for any person granted a restricted driver license and the device must remain in the vehicle during the entire period of time the driver has a restricted license.
SB2349 – “Kimberlee’s Law,” says that people convicted of aggravated rape must serve 100% of their sentence.
SB2759 – Creates a new level of criminal offense, a Class E felony of aggravated cruelty to livestock, which will exist when someone has intentionally engaged in specified conduct in a depraved and sadistic manner that results in serious bodily injury or death to the animal and is done without lawful or legitimate purpose.
Finally, and oddly, there’s HB2768, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for any person to knowingly dig, harvest, collect or remove wild ginseng from any land that such person does not own on any date not within the wild ginseng harvest season.