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Although we aren’t set to return to the Capitol until June 1 to resume our work on legislation, numerous bills have already been signed into law dealing with crime, corrections and the courts.  Before recessing due to COVID-19, we passed several bills cracking down on child sex offenders, aiding crime victims and helping our courts be more efficient and effective. The following are some of those new laws.

New Judicial District

Tennessee will have a new judicial district under a new law passed before the General Assembly adjourned. I sponsored this legislation, which adds District 32 to the state’s judicial districts, serving the citizens of Hickman, Lewis and Perry Counties.  

Currently, the counties are comprised in the 21st district, along with Williamson County. The measure allows Williamson County to become its own standalone judicial district effective Sept. 1, 2022.

Action on the measure follows recommendations made by the Advisory Task Force on Composition of Judicial Districts, which was created by lawmakers in 2018 to increase resources to the state’s judicial system.

The 32nd Judicial District will allow for more specialized legal attention to better address the unique needs of citizens in these counties by reducing the backlog of court cases currently on the books because of exponential growth.

Holly Bobo Act

We 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, which I co-sponsored, is called the “Holly Bobo Act” for a 20-year-old young woman who was kidnapped from her Darden 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.

Strengthening Penalties Against Child Sex Offenders

A new law was passed this year strengthening Tennessee’s statutes against the “worst of the worst” child sex offenders.  

Currently, sex offenders can be charged with aggravated rape of a child if their victim is zero to 3 years old. Beginning July 1, the new law raises that age range to zero to 8 years old.

Under legislation passed by the General Assembly last year, aggravated rape of a child is a Class A felony offense which is automatically punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Increasing the age range from zero to 3 to zero to 8, will help to ensure more of these offenders are taken off the streets.

The General Assembly also 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.

The legislation 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 law 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.

Clarifying, Strengthening Safe at Home Program

Legislation has been enacted clarifying the state’s Safe at Home law. The law implemented a program housed in the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office to help victims of domestic abuse, stalking, human trafficking or any sexual offense by protecting the confidentiality of their address. The legislation provides changes to make the program more efficient.  

More information about the Safe at Home program can be found at sos.tn.gov/safeathome.

Banning Convicted Animal Abusers From Owning Pets

Final approval was given to legislation banning some convicted animal abusers from ever owning any pets again. The new law prohibits individuals convicted of some of the worst offenses against animals from owning companion animals for at least 2 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.

The 28th District State Senate seat is held by Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and includes Giles and five other counties.

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