A proposal by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8-0 this morning.
Senate Bill 2133 prohibits a sentencing court from making a sentencing determination based on defendant’s consent or refusal to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization, or family planning services, regardless of whether the defendant’s consent is voluntarily given.
“Having children is one of the most important decisions an individual will ever make in his or her life,” Senator Kelsey said. “The decision to have children should be left out of the courtroom.”
Senator Kelsey and Rep. Akbari filed the bill in response to a White County judge offering reduced jail time to defendants who volunteered for sterilization. Judge Sam Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Judge Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity, and propriety.
“Reproduction is a fundamental right,” Senator Kelsey said. “In Tennessee, we respect life and we respect reproductive rights.”
The bill in no way prohibits defendants from seeking sterilization services if they so choose. It simply prohibits judges from incentivizing sterilization with reduced jail time. The bill will next be heard in the full Senate. Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.