(NASHVILLE), March 1, 2018 – A proposal by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization passed the State by a vote of 22-4 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,” Sen. Kelsey said. “The decision to have children should be left out of the courtroom.”
Sen. 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 Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity, and propriety.
“The offer of undergoing permanent sterilization or using long-acting contraceptives to reduce a judicial sentence is unconscionable,” Rep. Raumesh Akbari said. “After reading about a White County judge who’d issued a standing order offering a 30-day reduction to inmates that received either a vasectomy or birth control implant, I knew the legislature needed to act to ensure that this type of offer never occurred again. I’m proud of the bi-partisan effort to work on this legislation and I look forward to working towards passing this bill in the House.”
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. Sen. Lee Harris (D-Memphis) and Sen. Yarbro (D-Nashville) are co-sponsors of the Senate legislation.
“Reproduction is a fundamental right,” Sen. Kelsey said. “In Tennessee, we respect life and we respect reproductive rights.”
Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.