Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a trio of anti-crime measures into law during a Wednesday, June 6, visit to Bartlett.
The laws include an increase in mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders and a second law upping sentences for convicted felons with guns that include some specific circumstances for longer sentences.
The third law makes aggravated assault, robbery and aggravated burglary a higher class of felony with a longer sentence when committed by groups of three or more people. The law is aimed at gang violence.
The felons with guns bill that passed in the Tennessee Legislature earlier this year is the second in as many years to become law.
Shelby County legislators refer to the latest bill as “son of a gun.”
“The DAs have quite a bit of discretion in terms of them deciding what are the cases that merit that,” Haslam said when asked about complaints by some attorneys in the federal courts system that federal felons with guns cases have overcrowded dockets.
“In the case of the domestic violence law, it does have a mandatory jail time for the first time,” Haslam said.
Tennessee is fourth in the country per capita in reported incidents of domestic violence.
All three bills were goals of local criminal justice system leaders in Shelby County at least two years before Haslam began his 2010 campaign for governor.
It was during the Republican primary campaign that Haslam took note of rival contender and then Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons who pushed the crime proposals at every campaign stop. Gibbons emphasized crime issues during his run for the GOP nomination.
When Gibbons dropped out of the primary race, Haslam talked with him more about the ideas. When Haslam was elected he tapped Gibbons to be his commissioner of safety and homeland security.
The local Operation Safe Community group Gibbons remains a part of lobbied in Nashville for the bills but always ran afoul of the fiscal note – the estimated cost to the state that state officials attach to every piece of legislation.
Gibbons and then-Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin argued that the felons with guns legislation in particular wouldn’t cost as much as the state committee on fiscal review estimated because it would have a deterrent effect. The fiscal note was based on an increase in state prison populations and it was enough to cause the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen to resist calls by the Shelby County group to make it a priority.
“Everybody was worried about the price tag and it was just a matter of priorities,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “This governor set the priorities straight and made this one of his.”
Haslam said the fiscal notes did not change when he took office.
“The administrations don’t set that. (The) fiscal review (committee) sets that. And we live with that,” Haslam said. “But we were willing to take on that cost because we thought it was worth it. We’re very diligent about watching the cost of government. But there are certain things that we think are worth it and this was one of them.”
The fiscal note or impact of the three bills combined was estimated at $11.1 million. The highest fiscal note is the $8.1 million estimate of the cost to county governments for the increased domestic violence mandatory jail time for repeat offenses.
The “son of a gun” law had a fiscal note of $271,000 to state government for increased incarceration.
The gang violence bill had a fiscal note of $2.8 million to state government for the same reason.