Lawmakers Focus On Aiding Crime Victims

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NASHVILLE– Victims of crime were at the heart of several key bills, including the Judiciary Committee chaired by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet). Beavers said, “Legislation to curb crime and drug abuse in Tennessee remains high on the list of priorities,” as lawmakers are working diligently to complete the 2012 session. 

Kelsey Smith Act would help locate crime victims through cell phone technology

Among bills to aid crime victims was legislation approved by the Senate Commerce Committee that would help law enforcement in locating a missing person believed to be the victim of a crime. Senate Bill 2413  requires wireless providers to “ping” the victim’s cell phone at the request of law enforcement authorities to help locate the missing person when there is sufficient information to believe there is a risk or threat of death or serious physical harm.

The “Kelsey Smith Act” is named after an 18-year old Kansas woman who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2007. The tragedy resulted in a nationwide movement by her parents, Greg and Missey Smith, and other advocates to ensure that law enforcement authorities can receive assistance from a cell phone provider to help find the missing person.

Current law only allows emergency 911 personnel or law enforcement authorities to obtain a ping location on a cell phone if the call was made to 911 initially. Any other request requires a warrant, which may take days to obtain. In Kelsey Smith’s case, nearby surveillance video showed there was reason to believe she been abducted, but since she did not dial 911, her location was not released by her cell phone provider despite pleas from her family and law enforcement officials. After four days, the technology was used that pinpointed the location of her cell phone and her body was found within 45 minutes.

Currently five states, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and New Hampshire, have passed the Kelsey Smith Act. Tennessee, Hawaii, Missouri and Washington, D.C. also have the legislation under consideration this year. 

Legislation creates civil recourse for victims of human trafficking

Legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Senator Beavers that would give victims of human trafficking a civil cause of action to sue the person who has victimized them. The purpose of Senate Bill 2369 is to help restore trafficking victims financially at the expense of the trafficker.

Human traffickers target vulnerable victims which most often include immigrants, children and runaways.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in four children who run away are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home.

A report ordered by the General Assembly and released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) last year revealed disturbing findings about human trafficking in Tennessee. Seventy-eight of the 95 counties inTennessee, representing 85 percent of the total counties in the state, reported at least one case of human sex trafficking in the last 24 months. Sixty-eight counties, representing 72 percent of the total counties in the state, reported at least one case of human sex trafficking involving a minor child, while Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox Counties reported more than 100 cases.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 2370 which calls for a plan to be developed in the Department of Human Services for the delivery of state services to victims of human trafficking. The bill seeks to give victims assistance in identifying any services the state offers which will help them recover from this crime.

Legislature continues war against synthetic drug abuse in Tennessee

Legislation dealing with the growing epidemic of synthetic drugs in Tennessee passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Senate Bill 2280 makes it a Class E felony to possess, use or sell synthetic substances intended to imitate controlled substances. The bill is modeled after laws currently in place in Florida and Virginia.

Synthetic drug products, which have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults, are sold at a variety of retail outlets like convenience stores, smoke shops and over the Internet. The products are sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” but are comprised of a class of chemicals perceived as mimics of substances like cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines.

Last week, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn told Senate Judiciary Committee members that synthetic drugs have the potential to eclipse methamphetamine as the most dangerous drug inTennesseeunless action is taken. 

Gwyn said there are many new synthetic drugs on the horizon that have not made it to Tennessee yet, including one mimicking Oxycontin. He said the drug, which is produced in China, comes in a container similar to 5-hour energy drinks. 

Chairman Beavers said the General Assembly has passed legislation to ban the chemical compound used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compound to avoid prosecution. By the time a new synthetic drug is discovered and banned, another altered form of the compound has taken its place.

The legislation passed by the committee this week is similar to Senate Bill 2172, sponsored by Senator Beavers passed by the Committee last month. However, that bill defined synthetic drugs in such a way as to capture any analogues. An analogue is a chemical compound having a similar structure to the banned drug. That proposal also prescribed tiered penalties for selling, using or possessing the drug. 

Both bills now travel to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration of their financial impact.

Issues in Brief

State savings / state buildings -- General Services Commissioner Steve Cates presented his department’s budget to the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Cates said the department is continuing to identify areas of savings, including the reduction of leased space. Cates said he believes the state can eliminate one million square feet of rental property with more efficient use of state-owned buildings. The department has consolidated real estate management in order to take advantage of good business practices that save taxpayer dollars.

DUI / Child Endangerment -- Legislation was approved by the full Senate that ensures a multiple DUI offender receives the appropriate punishment when he or she endangers a child in their vehicle by driving under the influence.  Currently, multiple offenders do not receive an enhanced sentence like first offenders due ambiguity in the language of a 2005 law which enhanced penalties for child endangerment for DUI offenders.  Senate Bill 2607, sponsored by Senator Beavers makes sure state law is clear for multiple DUI offenders that the punishment for child endangerment, which is 30 days, runs consecutively with any other sentence received. 

Sportsman’s License / Intellectually Disabled  -- The full Senate gave unanimous Senate approval to a measure this week that creates a sport combination license for individuals who are under the age of 18 and are permanently disabled as certified by a licensed physician. Senate Bill 3655 authorizes the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to discount the annual fee to $5.00 for this license to encourage these outdoor activities for citizens with intellectual disabilities.

Impersonation of U.S.Armed Forces -- Legislation that would make it a Class B misdemeanor offense for a person to falsely represent they are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces has advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2287 creates a Class B misdemeanor offense for a person falsely representing to be or to have been a member of the United States Armed Forces when their intentions are fraudulent.

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