Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's initiatives include gangs, DUIs

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's initiatives include gangs, DUIs

January 28th, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Bill Haslam

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

PUBLIC SAFETY LEGISLATION

Gov. Bill Haslam proposed public safety legislation includes:

• Community Safety Act - Would prohibit verified gang members from gathering in court-designated "safety zones."

• Recidivsim Reduction Act - Aims to reduce DUI recividism by allowing judges to order substance abuse treatment for 2nd and 3rd offense DUI convictions.

• Seat Belt Act - Would increase fine for first-offense seat belt noncompliance from $10 to $25 and second offense from $20 to $50.

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Gov. Bill Haslam's public safety legislative package for this session extends beyond coming up with a way to cut production of methamphetamine.

The package includes proposed bills to tackle criminal gangs, allow judges some flexibility in sentencing repeat DUI offenders; and boosting fines for seat belt violations.

Members of the governor's public safety team discussed these items Monday with the Times Free Press.

The Community Safety Act would use existing public nuisance laws to target criminal gang members and create zones or areas where gang members could not meet in groups.

Bill Gibbons, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said the proposed legislation targeting gangs expands work done in Nashville and Memphis, where judges have crafted provisions that "carve out safety zones" that ban verified gang members with criminal records.

The proposed law is an outgrowth of an amendment to state law passed in 2009 that added criminal gangs to the nuisance statute.

Gibbon said that judges used the local provisions to prohibit the "Kurdish Pride Gang" from gathering in a local park in Nashville and to prevent the "Riverside Rollin' 90s Neighborhood Crips" from gathering in the Riverside neighborhood in Shelby County.

The penalty is a class C misdemeanor and a $50 fine. But the true deterrent is that the provision can be used to trigger a parole or probation violation for gang members under such restrictions.

The Recidivism Reduction Act aims to reduce drunken driving recidivism by giving judges the power to sentence people convicted of second and third offense DUIs to a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of probation.

The second offense would require 15 days of jail time before the treatment program; third offense would require 60 days jail time prior to the program.

The proposed law allows for some offenders to attend treatment at night so that they may remain employed, said E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Another bill seeks to increase fines for not wearing a seat belt.

Current fines are $10 for first offense, $20 for each subsequent offense.

Those figures are the second lowest in the United States, according to the bill.

The bill would raise the fines to $25 for first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.