NASHVILLE –Law and order legislation dominated debate in the State Senate this week as several key bills advanced, including legislation to enact tougher sentences for violent felons in possession of firearms. The legislation continues a series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” passed over the last decade to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping violent criminals behind bars longer to protect the public.
Senate Bill 1241 follows recent reports that convicted felons illegally in possession of firearms have increased from 13 to 17 percent over the past three years. Currently, possession of a firearm by a felon previously convicted for an offense involving the use or attempted use of force is punishable as a Class C felony, with sentences averaging 3.51 years. The legislation would increase the offense to a Class B felony, almost doubling the average time spent in jail to 6.31 years. Likewise, the legislation enhances penalties for possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony drug conviction. The proposal elevates the crime from a Class D to a Class C felony, adding 1.28 years to the current average sentence of 2.23 years.
The bill also prohibits probation for possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony conviction involving the use or attempted use of force.
Convicted Criminals Unlawfully in the U.S. — The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow courts in Tennessee to enhance the sentence of a convicted criminal who is unlawfully in the U.S. Senate Bill 1260 creates a new enhancement factor that a judge can consider in sentencing if the defendant was illegally or unlawfully in the U.S. at the time the offense was committed.
First Degree Murder / Insanity Plea — Legislation advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week requiring that a trial court order an individual who has been charged with first degree murder or a Class A felony, who is found not guilty by reason of insanity, to participate in an outpatient treatment for a minimum of six months after being released to the community. This outpatient treatment applies regardless of whether or not the individual is or is not hospitalized.
In addition, under this legislation, any individual who is currently committed to a hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for first degree murder or a Class A felony by at the time the offense was committed is also subject to a trial court order to participate in outpatient treatment for at least six months when discharged from the facility.
Senate Bill 1206 also requires that there be periodic reviews conducted by the trial court a minimum of once a year after the initial six-month period of outpatient treatment, in which the court will consider the various factors in deciding whether to continue or terminate the outpatient treatment requirement.
Organized Retail Crime – Legislation designed to address Organized Retail Crime (ORC) in Tennessee received final approval this week. It has been estimated that in 2015 alone Tennessee lost over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lost over $200 million due to return fraud.
Senate Bill 119 expands the offense of theft of merchandise to include tampering with anti-shoplifting devices; using any artifice, instrument, container, device or other article to facilitate a theft; and, activating or interfering with a fire alarm system to facilitate a theft. The legislation has already been approved by the House of Representatives and now goes to the governor for his signature.
Domestic Violence Victims – Similarly, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week establishing a new procedure by which a person granted an order of protection may carry a handgun for seven days as long as the person has a copy of the order in the person’s possession. Senate Bill 983 aims to provide victims with the ability to protect themselves immediately as the process for obtaining a handgun permit can take weeks or months to obtain. During the seven-day period, the person is authorized to apply with the Department of Safety for a temporary handgun carry permit. The temporary handgun carry permit may be issued as a letter to the applicant.