Friday, April 9, 2010

Robbery sentencing bill goes to TN Senate

By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • April 9, 2010 A bill that would increase jail time for armed robbers is back on track after a show of support from law enforcement officials. The state House of Representatives voted 88-4 on Thursday to more than double the minimum jail time for people convicted of aggravated robbery, sending the issue to the state Senate. The legislation was introduced after a recently released Nashville gang member was charged with committing five robberies in a 36-hour spree last fall. The vote came after one lawmaker, Rep. Matthew Hill, withdrew an amendment that would have made the measure more expensive. Dozens of police chiefs and other police officers turned out in the House chamber Thursday to urge lawmakers to pass the bill without Hill's amendment. "This is an important bill, a smart bill," Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said after the vote. "We appreciate the House of Representatives passing this bill without amendment." Sponsored by House Democratic Leader Gary Odom, the measure had broad support from members of both parties, but its chances of passage were clouded Monday night when shortly before a vote was to take place Hill, R-Jonesborough, introduced an amendment that Odom, D-Nashville, said would have made it too expensive to implement. The bill would increase the minimum amount of jail time that a convicted armed robber must serve to 74 percent of the sentence from 30 percent. For an eight-year sentence, that would be the equivalent of increasing the minimum jail time to nearly six years from 2.4 years. With the state facing lean budgets, the bill also would move first-time offenders convicted of any of 19 types of nonviolent crimes from jail cells to community corrections programs. Hill proposed taking four of those crimes — shoplifting under $1,000, passing forged checks with a face value under $1,000, burglary from an automobile and burning personal property — out of the bill. He reversed course Thursday after lobbying from the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and other law enforcement groups. "They know the bottom line is this legislation is going to help save lives," Odom said. In the end, Hill and all but five Republicans voted for the legislation. "It was an attempt to make a good bill better," House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower said of Hill's amendment. "We just didn't have the money to do that right now."

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