published Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Tennessee Senate OKs bill that rewrites state anti-gang laws

NASHVILLE —The Senate today gave final approval to a Haslam administration bill that rewrites Tennessee’s little-used anti-gang laws by providing clear definitions for what is a criminal gang offense.

Senators voted 31-0 for the bill, which previously passed the House.

But another anti-gang initiative pushed by former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield is in limbo after getting slapped with a new legislative analysis projecting it would ultimately cost the state $744,000 a year.

When the bill came up on the House floor Monday night, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, delayed it. He later said the bill likely won’t pass because of a new fiscal note on its costs.

Regarding the administration bill, which is estimated to cost only about $25,500 annually, Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said there “have not been prosecutions” under the current law in recent years “because the code is vague.”

The administration bill redefines what is a criminal gang offense and broadens the definition of “pattern of criminal gang activity” to include convictions for facilitation of criminal gang offenses. It allows a “criminal gang offense” to be considered in establishing a “pattern of criminal gang activity.”

It adds more than 20 crimes that offenders would receive additional prison time for if they are determined to be part of a criminal gang. The list ranges from first and second degree murder to kidnapping, robbery, aggravated robbery, child rape, aggravated rape, carjacking, aggravated buglary, assault and aggravated assault.

The Chattanooga bill adds “criminal gang crimes” to the statement of legislative intent in the state’s existing Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) of 1989.

It lengthens the time that can elapse between incidents of racketeering conduct from two years to five years. It redefines “racketeering activity” to specifically list offenses that are meant to constitute a “criminal gang offense” under state law.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, passed the Senate last week. The new fiscal note was issued Monday.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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