The Tennessee legislature is officially recessed until 2022.
It’s only been 116 days since Joshua, Claire, and I launched this project. Since then, we’ve been joined by dozens of members, hundreds of activists, and thousands of advocates.
As of today, we are proud to report that 3 strong bills have made it through the legislature and are sitting on the Governor’s desk.
Here’s the recap:
HB1406/SB1380 was a huge win for Tennessee. The bill ends the issuance of no-knock raids warrants, requires officers to intervene in and report on situations of excessive force, restricts the use of chokeholds, requires de-escalation training, and limits the ability of LEO’s to fire weapons in traffic.
This bill was written by law enforcement with input from the Department of Safety, Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, THP, TBI, Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, and others. With rising national distrust of law enforcement among some communities, this represents a preemptive move that will foster goodwill between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.
While the new law doesn’t prevent no-knock raids that did not require a warrant (such as instances of imminent and immediate danger to hostages where deadly force may be used to protect the innocent), this bill does completely do away with the issuance of no-knock warrants. Similarly, chokeholds will be taught to officers but will only be allowed when the officer “reasonably believes that deadly force is warranted.” Finally, and arguably most importantly, the bill requires officers to report instances of excessive force by their peers and intervene in those instances if they see them unfolding. This will make sure the bad apples that taint the profession are dealt with in a way that keeps the interest of those they serve in mind and protect the state or municipality from the threat of future lawsuits.
Passage of this bill puts Tennessee in a small and select group of states that are leading the way nationally with strong efforts to reform policing while making our police officers and citizens safer.
Chairman Mike Bell’s (R-Riceville) Senate bill passed the full Senate on April 19th by a vote of 32-0. Once it got that momentum in the Senate it couldn’t be stopped. Michael Curcio’s (R-Dickson) House bill passed the full house floor on May 3rd with a 90-0 vote!
Essential vs Nonessential
In 2020, more than 1200 small businesses closed their doors permanently due to the shutdowns. Every business was adversely affected and unemployment in the state reached as high as 15.5% as a direct result of the policy.
It’s likely the 2020 shutdowns will go down as the largest wealth transfer from small businesses to multinational corporations in modern history and should never be allowed to happen again.
HB37/SB1573 restricts local executive officials from labeling businesses as essential or nonessential in the event of an emergency. Originally this bill applied to executives at the state, county, and city level. Unfortunately, the bill was amended so that it did not affect the Governor’s ability to issue statewide shutdown orders in the event of an emergency. Obviously, that weakened the bill, but it still applies to cities and counties, and that is a big step in the right direction.
Paul Bailey’s (R-Sparta) Senate bill passed the full Senate on April 12 by a vote of 27 to 3! Brandon Ogle’s (R-Franklin) house version passed the full House on April 27th with a 72-19 vote. This bill is off to the governor’s desk and ready to become law!
Civil Forfeiture Attorney’s Fees
HB1254/SB1361 relates to civil asset forfeiture. Current law allows law enforcement agencies to seize property they simply think could be used in the commission of a crime, even if there is no corresponding charge against the person.
Hypothetically: this means if you are pulled over for expired tags, and you happen to have a couple of thousand dollars in cash in the car because you are going to buy something off of craigslist, the police officer can confiscate the money based on an assumption that you may be going to buy drugs instead.
Because civil forfeiture cases are handled through an administrative hearing, not a courtroom, there is no attorney provided to help you in defense of your property.
Current law requires the agency that seized your property to reimburse you for legal expenses to the tune of 25% of the property value up to $3,000. So if they seized $2,000 in cash, they would only have to provide $500.
$500 doesn’t get you a lot of help for your defense, especially when you take into account the amount of time that some of the cases can take to resolve. Thinking critically about this situation also reveals the possibility of a perverse incentive for law enforcement to intentionally drag out these proceedings until the defendant no longer has the means to defend their property, allowing the agency to add to its coffers at the expense of those who simply don’t have the means to fight back.
With the passage of HB1254/SB1361, the defenseless are better protected. The bill removes the language pertaining to 25% of the property value and caps the reimbursement at a flat $10k. Because that money comes from the agency that seized the property, the formerly perverse incentive in the code is now reversed.
With the new law, law enforcement agencies have the incentive to resolve these matters quickly in order to minimize the payout. Additionally, it may encourage law enforcement to reconsider what they seize. It seems that seizing $2k while potentially being on the hook for a $10k reimbursement would not be an ideal situation for law enforcement agencies to find themselves in.
Civil forfeiture is meant to deal blows against kingpins in the drug war. Some seizures may involve a truck driver with a sealed trailer who has no idea he is transporting millions of dollars in drug money for a cartel. However, in Tennessee, the average seizure is around only $2,300.
We aren’t taking down cartels with small seizures, we are just taking from people that have little means to defend themselves. We think this bill could reshape police strategy pertaining to civil forfeiture, having a huge impact on how it affects the least among us.
Jerry Sexton’s (R-Bean Station) House bill got through a floor vote of 92-0 on April 26th. Chairman Mike Bell’s (R-Riceville) Senate bill passed on the Senate floor with a 29-2 vote on April 29th.
I want to thank everyone who stepped up this year to help make these successes a reality.
With the legislative session over, we’ll be hosting several events throughout the next 9 months. We’ll also be traveling across the state visiting with our members and speaking to partners and affiliates.
If you have an event you’d like us to visit, if you’d like to step up to volunteer, or if you have any questions or concerns, just respond to this email.
The growth we’ve seen in the last 100 days has been extremely encouraging; we’re looking forward to the next 100 days as well as the 2022 session.
If you want a vote on our 2022 legislative agenda, sign up to become a member for a little as $5/mo by clicking here.
Chairman of the Board