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Heavy load of bills on Tracy's plate

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

State Sen. Jim Tracy
Evaluating refugee resettlement, training requirements for sheriffs, and drug testing those taking government benefits is just a small sample of proposed bills introduced this year by State Sen. Jim Tracy.

With the 107th General Assembly now in session, over 2,000 pieces of legislation have been filed so far after last Thursday's deadline expired for bills to be introduced.

A total of 2,124 bills have been filed on the House side, and 2,082 in the Senate, and the legislation has to be filed in both chambers in order for a measure to be considered as a new law

As for Tracy, he said Monday he has introduced 112 bills, and some of those might have a local impact.

POST bill

One would have a direct impact on this county's sheriff, and perhaps others across the state.

Over a week ago, the state Court of Appeals overturned a 2009 chancellor's ruling which had reinstated Sheriff Randall Boyce to peace officer certification. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission had denied Boyce's request for certification on the grounds that he had not completed basic recruit training when he became sheriff in 2006.

Senate Bill 1658 would authorize a person to be candidate for sheriff upon being certified as completing the functional equivalent training provided by POST as an alternative to present requirement of a POST certification or examination.

The bill has also been entered in the House as HB1190 by State Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville.

Tracy said a bill was introduced a couple of years ago in the Tennessee State Legislature by him and former Rep. Curt Cobb that would have changed the state code, allowing Boyce to be certified, but the effort was unsuccessful. This year, there are a couple of bills dealing with the issue, Tracy said.

"Rep. Eddie Bass, a former sheriff from Giles County, has got one very similar to ours," he said. Tracy said the bill just relieves the physical training required for a sheriff.

Referring to Bass' bill, Tracy said that "this is something we are looking at statewide that sheriffs are more administrators now, to make sure they have the training to administer their office and so forth."

Refugee bill

SB1670 is another bill Tracy filed with Bedford County in mind. The proposed legislation would codify federal regulations to ensure that local communities would be able to absorb refugees.

The bill would make sure that a town's "absorptive capacity" would be evaluated at regular intervals in consultation between the local governments and the resettlement agencies before commitments are made for refugee resettlement.

A number of refugees from a variety of countries, such as Somali, Burma and Egypt, have moved to Shelbyville to be closer to jobs at the Tyson Foods facility.

Tracy said that there has been "a lot of discussion across the state about this, particularly in Bedford County ... but other counties also." The proposed bill would require resettlement agencies to let local governments know when a large number of refugees are coming "because it puts a burden on the local community."

The bill would require the charitable organizations that sponsor the refugees to let the state know when refugees are coming, how many, "what they're (the agencies) getting paid and where the money is going."

In 2008, the state withdrew from administering refugee services, but appointed Catholic Charities as the fiduciary agency for the state's refugee programs.

The Tennessee Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities, would be required to meet four times a year with local governments representatives to plan and coordinate the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of their arrival.

"Right now, communities don't know when that's going to happen," Tracy explained. "It puts a burden on local communities, whether they be law enforcement, schools, or those kind of things."

The state refugee office would also be required to accept applications from a local government for a moratorium on new resettlement if the host community "lacks sufficient absorptive capacity," the bill reads.

If a determination is made that further resettlement in the host community "would result in an adverse impact to existing residents," then the Tennessee Office for Refugees would suspend additional resettlement until it is jointly determined by local officials and the state refugee coordinator that there is an "absorptive capacity."

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Ken Yager and Rusty Crowe, with the House version of the bill introduced by Rep. Bill Dunn of the 16th District.

Drug tests

One proposed law that may prove popular with the public would require those applying for either food stamps, unemployment benefits, or Families First assistance to submit to drug testing.

SB1677 would also prohibit felons guilty of certain drug crimes from receiving food stamp program benefits from taxpayer money.

"There's a big concern," Tracy said. "People want to make sure that their money ... taxpayer money ... isn't going to furnish a drug habit. I've heard from many, many of my constituents supporting these two bills." The House version, HB1289, was introduced by Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia.

The wording of the Senate bill applies to drugs classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, or a Schedule II-V controlled substance that is not prescribed for that person.

However, schedule VI substances, such as marijuana, hashish or synthetic equivalents, are not included in the bill.

"It's just a common sense thing," Tracy said. "If people are using taxpayer money to fund their illegal drug habit, that's just not right, and I think people, for the most part, agree with that."

Another Senate bill, SB 0504, would classify six stimulants used to make plant food and bath salts as a Schedule I controlled substance.

The products use compounds of methcathinone, a synthetic type of amphetamine that has been compared to meth and crack cocaine. At least four deaths have been attributed to the substance.

Tracy said his measure is a version of HB 0529, introduced by Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna, and he stated that there has been a lot of concern over the drug in Rutherford County.

Camera rules

While traffic surveillance cameras have not come to Bedford County, they can be found in Murfreesboro and other cities in Tennessee. But a measure sponsored by Tracy would place a uniform standard on the devices.

Tracy said that "a lot of complaints from across the state" has been expressed about the cameras, pointing out that some communities have been using them in different ways with varying fines and penalties issued.

If passed, fines from the camera could not be more than $50, and they would no longer be allowed to cite a driver for turning right on a red light, Tracy said.

Also, an independent engineering study for an intersection to make sure that the location covered by the cameras "is for safety reasons only, and not for revenue enhancing."

"Each local community can decide if they want to have these cameras," Tracy said. "But it does put a uniform standard on them."

No kissing

Another proposed law would make it a Class A misdemeanor for an authority figure to kiss a minor "if such touching can be reasonably construed as being for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification."

Tracy said that there wasn't any law on the books covering this and that a Rutherford County judge wanted this matter clarified in the law. Tracy said he was shocked when he learned it was not already part of the law.

Another proposed law would create Class A misdemeanor for a non-participant in a sporting event who assaults a sports official, resulting in 30 days in jail and a minimum $1,000. A second offense could result in minimum of six months in jail and a $5,000

But if more than five assemble to assault a sports official, it turns into a Class E felony.

Tracy said that bill originated in the House from Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, but was moved to his office due to the fact that the senator was once a sports official.

"We've got a big week, moving these bills," Tracy said.