Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd December 16, 2020

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   Holly Bobo Act raises the minimum age for endangered child alerts – Lawmakers voted this year to allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to expand its missing and endangered child and young adult alert program to individuals under the age of 21. Public Chapter 595 is called the “Holly Bobo Act” for a 20-year-old young woman who was kidnapped from her Darden, Tennessee home and murdered in 2011. 

   Previously, endangered child alerts were only issued for abduction of persons under the age of 18. In issuing an Endangered Child Alert, which is distinct from the America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert, the TBI notifies local media in specific regions of the state about the missing person, along with any additional information which is available. They also share the information on social media. 

   The National Crime Information Center claims that 73 percent of missing persons are 20 years of age or under. 

   Legislation bans convicted animal abusers from owning pets in certain cases — Final approval was given to legislation banning some convicted animal abusers from ever owning any pets again. Public Chapter 570 prohibits individuals convicted of some of the worst offenses against animals from owning companion animals for at least two years from the date of conviction and may impose a lifetime prohibition. Upon a subsequent offense, the court shall prohibit the individual from having custody of any companion animal for the person’s lifetime. The measure builds on a 2015 law that created the Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry, the first ever animal abuse registry in the nation. 

   General Assembly amends state’s drug-free school zone laws — The General Assembly approved legislation to ensure the state’s “drug-free school zones” law is best applied with its original intent – to protect children from being sold or exposed to drugs. Public Chapter 803 is intended to more harshly punish those who sell or distribute drugs to students; however, at a 1,000 foot radius from a school, drug-free school zones often encompass apartment complexes, interstate shoulders, and residential neighborhoods.

   This has led to drug users being subject to harsher punishments, even if the offense is committed in their home or vehicle without children present.

   Currently, if a person is caught with possession with the intent to distribute a small amount of drugs to support his or her habit, even in a home with no school or children in sight, the offender can receive a longer sentence (15 years mandatory minimum) than second degree murder (15 years eligible for release at 13 years).

   The new legislation seeks to remedy this disparity by reducing drug free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet from a school. It also gives judges more discretion to weigh the factors of a case and apply appropriate penalties. In addition, it establishes a rebuttable presumption that a defendant is not required to serve the minimum sentence established under the Drug Free School Zone Act as long as vulnerable persons, in this case children, were not exposed to the crime. This provision protects the original intent of the law which ensures those who expose children to drug crimes are punished fully. Another goal of the legislation is to apply the law more evenly across the state.

   Not only does the legislation seek to more justly apply the law, but it also is projected to save the state $18.4 million by avoiding incarceration costs.

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.