published Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Public nuisance bill against criminal gang members clears Tennessee Senate

NASHVILLE -- The Tennessee Senate today passed legislation providing structure to cities' efforts to use state public nuisance laws to bar criminal gang members from specifically designated public areas like parks and neighborhoods.

The Community Safety Act zipped through the chamber on a 32-0 vote and awaits action in the House.

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, presented the bill, saying when enacted it "will build on our current nuisance laws and give law enforcement another tool in their ongoing battle with gangs in our various communities."

The Haslam administration's bill, which has been worked on extensively, "is constitutional and it meets with the standards that are necessary to appropriately enforce the law without it violating anyone's rights," Watson said.

Watson thanked Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons for pushing the measure and said lawmakers "owe a debt" to Metro Nashville and Memphis, which used a 2009 change in state public nuisance laws to go after a gang in each of the cities.

With little guidance in the state statute, judges fashioned injunctions barring gang members from entering a Nashville they once dominated a park and doing the same with a Memphis-based gang, which had a strong presence in a neighborhood.

The bill tightens standards. For example, the standard necessary law enforcement needs to pursue a court injunction against a gang and its members is now tougher.

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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