Home » Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Corrections, Courts, & Crimes

Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Corrections, Courts, & Crimes

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   Revised statute seeks to protect children from relative sex offenders – The General Assembly voted this year to clarify a 2019 law prohibiting sexual offenders or violent sexual offenders from staying overnight at a residence in which a minor resides or is present. A lawsuit was filed after passage of the legislation pertaining to parents and children who fall under the statute’s provisions. I sponsored this new law which addresses the matter by authorizing a District Attorney (DA) to petition a circuit court when they believe an offender whose victim was age 12 or under poses risk of substantial harm to his or her child. The court would then make a finding by clear and convincing evidence regarding prohibition of overnight visits. Revisions made by the new statute address the legal questions that have arisen, while still providing an avenue to address original concerns that children be protected when there is a substantial risk of harm.

   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. The statute 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. 

   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. The law 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 law 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.

   Legislation calls for open records regarding acts of terrorism committed by juveniles – The General Assembly approved legislation that requires juvenile court petitions and orders to be open to public inspection if the delinquent act constitutes an act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism if committed by an adult. It also prohibits expunction of a juvenile’s record relating to a delinquent act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism by an adult. An act of terrorism is defined as conduct that violates the law and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, torture, kidnapping, or mass destruction.  

  Legislation imposes minimum fine in domestic assault cases – Legislation to impose a minimum fine of $100 in domestic assault cases passed during the 2020 legislative session. Currently, the law provides that in domestic assault cases a court may order a defendant to pay a maximum fine of $200 if the court determines the defendant possesses the ability to pay a fine. The new law maintains the maximum $200 fine and adds a floor of $100.  The goal of this legislation is to ensure this fine is uniform across the state.

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