Major legislation, which addresses the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, is among 29 new Tennessee laws set to take effect on Jan. 1. The Public Safety Act of 2016, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, establishes mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary or drug trafficking.
The legislation originated from Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism on which Senator Kelsey served.
“The primary duty of government is to protect its citizens,” said Senator Kelsey. “This new law will keep people safer in their homes by increasing the time served by those who repeatedly break into homes.”
“Providing for the peace, safety, and happiness of Tennessee is paramount. Effective enforcement of the law is fundamental,” added Senator Norris. “This Public Safety Act serves both purposes and is a significant next-step in the right direction.”
The new law sets the mandatory minimum period of incarceration to 85 percent for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances. It also changes the felony thresholds for property theft for a Class A misdemeanor from the $500 to $1,000, Class E felony from $500-$1,000 to a range of $1,000-$2,500, and a Class D felony from $1,000-$10,000 to a range of $2,500-$10,000.
On domestic violence, the new law allows a law enforcement officer to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. If a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection will be issued under the new law when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. A hearing should be held within 15 days of the automatic order of protection being issued.
“Unfortunately, Tennessee is ranked among the worst states for its high incidence of domestic violence,” said Senator Kelsey. “This legislation makes significant changes to help protect Tennesseans from domestic violence.”
The new statute provides that a third and subsequent domestic violence conviction becomes a Class E felony. Third and subsequent domestic violence convictions were previously a misdemeanor. This change maintains the current minimum 90-day sentence for a domestic violence conviction.
In addition, the measure retools community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when their noncompliance does not rise to the level of a new criminal offense. The move is expected to save the state $80 million. Of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061, or 40 percent, were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. This legislation authorizes the department to utilize a robust, structured matrix of both sanctions and incentives to facilitate compliance with the conditions of supervision by the more than 71,000 state probationers and parolees.
The new law is funded by an $18 million appropriation in the 2016-2017 state budget.