During the 2019 legislative session, my colleagues and I focused on improving safety for our citizens, while also supporting our law enforcement officials and victims of crime. Together, we strengthened laws related to child and elderly abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and dangerous criminals.
As part of our plan to remain tough on crime, our General Assembly passed the Elderly and Vulnerable Protection Act of 2019, which creates new offenses for knowingly abusing, neglecting or exploiting an elderly or vulnerable adult. Additionally, we approved House Bill 113, which extends the statute of limitation for prosecuting second degree murder cases from 15 years to any time after an offense is committed. House lawmakers also enhanced protections for domestic violence victims by establishing financial penalties against those who violate restraining orders or orders of protection. Finally, we streamlined the appeals process for those convicted of first degree murder and who have received the death penalty as punishment.
To support those who protect and serve, we passed legislation that balances both the interests of our citizens to voice their opinion while also protecting the fundamental rights of police officers and their families from malicious or politically focused persecution. My colleagues and I also added new tools to crack down on synthetic drug dealers — including House Bill 705 and House Bill 942. These bills add the sale or distribution of substances containing fentanyl, carfentanil, or any opiate with the intent and premeditation to commit murder as an aggravating sentencing factor for courts weighing the death penalty and also increase punishment for fentanyl dealers.
Also, the House fought for crime victims by establishing a human trafficking fund within the state treasury to provide comprehensive treatment and support services. We removed the statute of limitations for all felony crimes committed against children, and we promoted loving environments for our future leaders by requiring the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to consider previous allegations, complaints, or petitions of abuse or dependency and neglect against those responsible for the care of a child.
As part of our ongoing efforts to be smart on crime, the General Assembly removed state fees for those who are eligible to have their records expunged. These individuals have done their time, have served probation, have not gotten back into trouble and are eligible for records expungement. We also created a statewide payment plan for individuals who submit proof of their inability to pay fines, taxes, or court costs on citations and have had their licenses suspended. This will allow them to obtain restricted drivers licenses so they can work, pursue their education, or attend church. The overall goal of these measures is to ensure accountability but also support rehabilitation efforts as these individuals work towards prosperity.
These and other criminal justice bills passed in 2019 are part of a much larger plan that we will continue to execute in the days, weeks, and months ahead to build upon our recent safety improvements in communities across Tennessee. House leadership is committed to better protecting our citizens, reducing recidivism rates, supporting our heroic police officers, and working to create a new system that balances justice tempered with mercy. Our work ahead will guarantee Tennessee remains a national leader on these and other important issues.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, as well as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.