Anti-Crime Bills Headline Capitol Hill Week

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(NASHVILLE, TN), April 29, 2011 –  The full Senate voted 31 to 0 on Thursday to approve major legislation I sponsored to stiffen penalties for making methamphetamines in the presence of a child and implement a statewide electronic tracking system to curb meth production in the state.  The system, called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange), would monitor and block illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), a key ingredient in methamphetamine production.

There is currently no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal PSE sales in real time, as many pharmacies and retailers rely on handwritten, paper logbooks to track purchases.  As a result, criminals have learned to circumvent the current system. 

Senate Bill 1265 requires that as of January 1, 2012, all pharmacies must use NPLEx, which would export the data to law enforcement.   The NPLEx system will be at no cost to pharmacies or the state.  NPLEx must have a stop sale mechanism in place by that time for potential purchasers over the allowable purchase limit and anyone on the meth offender registry.   The bill also sets amounts of pseudoephedrine that can be purchased.  A buyer cannot purchase more than 3.6 grams of a pseudoephedrine product per day or more than 9 grams per 30-day period unless they have a valid prescription or face a Class A misdemeanor penalty. 

Doctor or pharmacy shopping to obtain more than that limit, often referred to as “smurfing,” would become a Class A misdemeanor subject to a fine of $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for second and subsequent offenses.  The bill also changes the amount of pseudoephedrine in a person’s possession necessary to establish intent to manufacture meth from 20 grams to 15 grams.  Fines assessed under the proposal will be used for cleanup of meth labs.

The provision stiffening penalties against making meth in the presence of a child would take place on July 1, 2011.  The bill would make the crime aggravated child endangerment which is punishable as a Class A felony if the child is eight years old or younger and a Class B felony if the child is over the age of eight.

Anti-terrorism -- The Senate Judiciary Committee, which I chair, voted 6 to 3 this week to approve an anti-terrorism bill aimed at curbing the incidence of homegrown terrorist acts in the state before they occur.  The proposal, called the “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011,” was amended to ensure an even-handed and non-discriminatory approach in defining how an entity is designated a terrorist organization.   

After investigation and recommendation from the Commissioner of Safety and the Director of the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, the legislation allows the Attorney General and the Governor to jointly “designate” a domestic terrorist entity.  Once designated, the bill forbids that material support or resources be provided to the designated entity.  It creates a Class B felony offense for knowingly providing material support or resources once that designation has been made.

The purpose of the bill is to criminalize the knowing provision of material support to known designated domestic and foreign terrorist entities.  The idea is to cut off the support for those who are planning to commit terrorist acts in Tennessee since it is the support that typically makes the acts more likely to occur. 

The legislation prescribes procedures to challenge, revoke, or amend a designation.  This includes multiple internal checks and balances to protect against potential abuse.  The proposal is closely modeled after the federal anti-terrorism material support statutes which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Drug felons / welfare benefits -- The Tennessee Senate has approved legislation that prohibits an individual convicted of a felony for possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance from being eligible to receive Families First program benefits.  Senate Bill 96 would apply to welfare recipients convicted on or after July 1, 2011 and would extend for a period of three years unless the individual receives treatment for substance abuse.

Families First is Tennessee’s welfare reform program, which began in September 1996 under a federal waiver, and which replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.  Benefits to children would not be affected under provisions of the bill.

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