2021 Legislative Agenda
The bills we’re working to get through the Tennessee Legislature this year.
In Tennessee, to run as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent for any partisan office requires a candidate to collect 25 signatures from registered voters in that candidate’s district. However, to run with any other party by your name, a C for Constitution Party, G for Green Party, or any other letter(s) you need 56,082 (2.5% of the votes cast in the governor’s race in 2018).
As of 2018, Tennessee had the 3rd highest signature requirement behind Texas and California, the two most populous states. HB0609 does three things. It reduces the number of signatures needed from 56k to approximately 12k This brings Tennessee more in line with the median requirement for minor parties across the country.
It also makes it marginally easier for minor parties to retain ballot access in the future by reducing the requirement for access retention from 5% to 1%. It also protects taxpayers from costly primaries by setting a 25% threshold for minor parties to trigger a state subsidy for mandatory primaries.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Criminal asset forfeiture is when a person profited from their crimes so their property is forfeited and auctioned off to benefit the community. Civil asset forfeiture is also a legal procedure in which property is forfeited, except it doesn’t require a crime to have been committed, a conviction to be obtained, or even a charge to be leveled. Historically this procedure was reserved for pirates with cash holds and maritime law, but was turned against the general public in the 1970s. Currently the average value of a civil forfeiture in TN is around $2200, implying the least among us are being hurt the most.
If a Tennessean has their property forfeited through a civil procedure, and they have paid the $350 bond, they may then bring on a lawyer as counsel. If the state loses this case, the agency who forfeited the property has to reimburse the cost of defense, but only up to $3k. Many of these cases take years to resolve, and 3k rarely covers even a small portion of the defense costs Removing the cap on attorney’s fees will incentivize the forfeiting agency to wrap up these cases quickly, instead of incentivizing them to drag out the dispute past the property owner’s financial means to carry on a legal battle.
If property is taken through civil forfeiture, Tennesseans must pay a $350 bond to start the process of appealing the forfeiture. For people of limited means, this bond can be a real barrier. If there is no underlying crime or pending charge, there should be no expense to a person trying to get their property back. This bill simply removes the $350 bond.
This is a comprehensive bill that addresses many aspects of civil forfeiture. First, it would require a criminal conviction to seize assets through forfeiture within specific parameters. As proposed, this legislation would require small amounts of money under $1,000 and vehicles valued under $2,000 to be tied to a criminal conviction before they can be forfeited. It also limits the use of the federal equitable sharing program to seizures over $100k. It gives District Attorney’s the ability to review the case and dismiss the case for lack of merit, a welcomed change from the administrative hearing that currently governs these procedures. And finally it changes the threshold for law enforcement to engage in a seizure from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence,” meaning that there must be a strong reason to believe criminal conduct is imminent.
Over the last few years, Tennessee has used civil asset forfeiture to collect property valuing between $15M and $18M a year, and we don’t know how much, if any, is later tied to a criminal conviction. This bill will require the Department of Safety to collect more complete information on how many forfeitures end in a conviction so that our legislators and the public can know how this program is impacting Tennesseans.
No Knock Raids
No knock raids put individuals and law enforcement involved in immense and immediate danger. The potential cost of a raid gone bad is not worth the cost of the damage that can be done in a particular situation, or the damage that it could do to law enforcement’s relationship with the community.
This is a comprehensive bill on policing that goes further than simply eliminating no knock raids. This bill would also limit use of chokeholds to situations in which the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is authorized, and requires de-escalation training for officers. Additionally it would require an officer to intervene if another officer is using excessive force, or report knowledge of the use of excessive force to a supervisor, while banning retaliation against an officer that meets these requirements. Finally, the bill would also limit the conditions in which officers could fire their weapons at a moving vehicle and require a training program on the subject.
Blighted properties are often condemned and taken through eminent domain. Current law allows well kept properties in the area of a property that has been designated as blighted to also be taken through eminent domain. The proposed bill will restrict this type of eminent domain seizure to only properties that have been designated as blighted.
fully informed juries
“Conscientious acquittal” is an inherent right, and often the duty, of juries. It is legal in every state in the US and modern countries everywhere, has been upheld by the supreme court multiple times, and is enshrined in Article 1 Section 19 of the Tennessee State Constitution. This bill would require a judge to inform the jury of this right, if asked to do so by the defense attorney.
Protect Small Business
Small businesses should not be forced to shut down while large retailers are allowed to remain open the next time there is an emergency like the one that hit our communities so hard last year. To that end, we seek to advance legislation that advances a level playing field and doesn’t pick winners and losers.
This bill prevents law enforcement from being used to enforce a shutdown of businesses, restrict the travel of Tennesseans, or restrict freedom of assembly.
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