Capitol Hill Week: Republican Party Perspective

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 (April 1, 2021) - Several major public safety bills advanced in the Tennessee Senate this week, including “Truth in Sentencing” legislation which strengthens protections for victims and their families.   Senate Bill 717 ensures certain violent or sexual offenders serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed by a judge or jury.  It affects offenses that historically target women and children such as rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and trafficking for a commercial sex act.

While the legislation does not remove judicial discretion, it ensures that parole or probation are not options for those found guilty of crimes that fall into these categories.  The person will still be permitted to earn eligible credits which increase their privileges, reduce their security classification, and any others which do not reduce the sentence imposed on them by the court.

Catalytic Converter Theft – In other action this week, the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved Senate Bill 1612 which I am sponsoring to combat the problem of catalytic converter theft. Catalytic converters contain three precious metals - rhodium, palladium and platinum.  Today rhodium has a value of $25,850 per ounce as compared to gold which is valued at $1,700 per ounce.  Palladium has a value of $2,648 per ounce, while platinum is valued at $1,200 per ounce.  This has fueled a black market in stolen catalytic converters, which can be sawed off the underside of a car in less than a minute.

There is video where thieves stole two converters within one and a half minutes.  They steal the catalytic converter and pull out the precious metals.  Currently, there is no process to require metal recycle dealers to obtain the information like we do with other car parts.  This legislation provides a way to start tracking them to curb the theft of catalytic converters in Tennessee.

  The legislation requires any person who buys or sells unattached catalytic converters to notify the chief of police or sheriff of each city and county in which the activity occurred.  It also requires any person who buys unattached catalytic converters to be registered as a scrap metal dealer in a fixed location business.  In addition, it ensures the person selling a detached catalytic converter provides documentation and identification. 

Under the bill, any person selling or possessing a detached catalytic converter without proper documentation is presumed to be in possession of contraband, punishable as a Class A misdemeanor.  The guilty party would be responsible for replacement costs of the stolen converter.

The bill, which is also the result of a cooperative effort between the metal recycling industry and law enforcement, now moves to the full Senate for a final vote.

Bills aid emergency responders -- Several bills supporting Tennessee’s emergency responders were approved in the Tennessee Senate this week.  This includes the “James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act to allow professional firefighters to file for worker’s compensation if they have been diagnosed with work-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Senate Bill 1023 aims to remove barriers to care and reduce the stigma attached with seeking mental health resources for PTSD. 

The full Senate gave final approval to legislation protecting federal law enforcement officers and their families by providing confidentiality regarding certain personal information.  This law already exists for state law enforcement officers to protect them from criminals who would harass or harm them or their families in act of revenge for work done in the line of duty. Senate Bill 475 adds federal law enforcement agents who are conducting an operation within Tennessee to the list of records which are considered confidential and not open for public inspection. 

Legislation benefitting Tennessee Highway Patrol officers who retire between 25 years and 30 years of service was also approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week.  I am sponsoring this legislation.  Currently, state employees must serve a full 30 years to receive 80 percent of the scheduled premiums which cover their health insurance costs.  Senate Bill 1607 lowers the threshold to 25 years of service to provide full benefits to officers who retire a few years earlier, covering any mandatory retirements.

In addition, state senators gave final approval to Senate Bill 995 this week to aid emergency rescue workers. Under current law, there is a legal presumption that any full-time firefighter, paramedic, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Advanced EMT who is infected with either HIV or the hepatitis C was inflicted with the disease on the job.  These public employees are specifically defined because they provide emergency medical aid to the public in the regular course of their employment without the protections available in a typical healthcare setting.

Please remember to call me if I can help you or to express our views on the issues we face.

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