Legislators Consider Shutting Down Public Access to 911 Calls

March 28, 2011 – By Kim Swindell Wood, Editor, kim@myspartanews.com

A law that would make 911 calls and transmissions of those calls confidential has been placed on the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee calendar for March 29.

911IconPNGNumerous media outlets across Tennessee, as well private citizens, have expressed their objections to this law, citing attempts by the government to place yet another restriction on the public’s access to data that should be accessible under the Freedom of Information Act.

Adding the special section, as follows, would amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 7, Chapter 86, Part 1, which is the section of law that regulates emergency communications districts. “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, all 911 calls and transmissions of such calls received pursuant to this chapter and all tapes containing records of such calls shall remain confidential and be used only for the purpose of handling emergency calls and for public safety purposes as may be needed for law enforcement, fire, medical, rescue, dispatching, or other emergency services. The 911 calls shall not be released to any other parties without the written consent of the caller whose voice is recorded, or upon order of the court.”

Senator Jim Tracy, Republican from Shelbyville, and State Representative Mike Sparks, Republican from Smyrna, are the prime sponsors of the bill and is filed under SB1665 and HB 1539.

A bill that changes the standards by which a person is considered to be driving under the influence has been placed on the Senate Judicial Committee calendar for March 29, 2011.

Senator Charlotte Burks, Democrat of Monterey, and State Representative Charles Curtiss, Democrat of Sparta, are the prime sponsors of this bill

Under present law, a person commits a DUI who drives or is in physical control of any automobile or other motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the state, or on any streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park or any apartment house complex, or any other premises that are generally frequented by the public at large, while:

(1) Under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, controlled substance, drug, substance affecting the central nervous system or combination thereof that impairs the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle by depriving the driver of the clearness of mind and control of himself which he would otherwise possess; or

(2) The alcohol concentration in the person’s blood or breath is 0.08 percent or more.

The fact that any person who drives while under the influence of narcotic drugs or barbital drugs, and is or has been entitled to use such drugs under the laws of this state does not constitute a defense to a DUI violation.

The new bill rewrites the above provisions to instead provide that a person commits the offense of DUI if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle anywhere within this state and the person:

(1) Is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, beer, or a chemical or controlled substance, any other impairing substance, or any combination of two or more of these substances and is thereby impaired to the slightest degree;

(2) Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more;

(3) Has any amount of a Schedule I chemical or controlled substance or one of its metabolites or analogs in the person’s blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid; or

(4) Has any amount of a Schedule II, III, or IV chemical or controlled substance or one of its metabolites or analogs in the person’s blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid, unless the person consumed the drug pursuant to a valid prescription.

Except as described in (4), the fact that any person charged with a DUI violation is or was legally entitled to consume alcohol or to use a controlled substance, medication, drug or other impairing substance would not constitute a defense against any such DUI charge.

Also, on March 29, the Senate Judiciary Committee will be reviewing the bill that would increase the penalty for disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral or memorial service. The penalty would increase from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor.

This bill is listed at HB1869 and SB1380 and is sponsored by State Representative Joe Pitts, Democrat from Clarksville, and Senator Lowe Finney, Democrat from Jackson.

Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-17-317, would be amended by deleting subsections (b) and (c) in their entirety and by substituting instead the following language:

(b) This section shall only apply to acts within 500 feet of a funeral or burial, funeral home viewing of a deceased person, funeral procession, or funeral or memorial service for a deceased person.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor.

A bill listed under traffic safety would, if passed, delete the requirement that a vehicle must come to a full and complete stop before turning “right on red.” This bill is on the agenda of Transportation Subcommittee for March 29 and is sponsored by State Representative Matthew Hill, Republican of Jonesborough, and Senator Stacey Campfield, Republican of Knoxville.

Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 55-8-110(a)(3)(A), is amended by deleting the language:

“A right turn on a red signal shall be permitted at all intersections within the state; provided, that the prospective turning car shall come to a full and complete stop before turning and that the turning car shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and cross traffic traveling in accordance with their traffic signal; provided, further, such turn will not endanger other traffic lawfully using the intersection.”

And by substituting instead the following language:

“A right turn on a red signal shall be permitted at all intersections within the state; provided, that the prospective turning car shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and cross traffic traveling in accordance with their traffic signal; provided, further, the turn will not endanger other traffic lawfully using the intersection. For the purposes of this subdivision, “yield the right-of-way” means that when a vehicle is approaching an intersection and the driver thereof has the intention of making a right turn on a red signal, the vehicle must stop and wait when other vehicles are approaching from the left or right on the other roadway or pedestrians have entered or are about to enter the crosswalk or roadway; provided, however, if the driver is certain no other vehicles or pedestrians are approaching, the driver need not come to a complete stop, but must slow down while entering the intersection and make the right turn on red with caution.

However, the state and local law enforcement budgets would be affected with a decrease in revenue.

According to the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee, the amended law would decrease state revenue by approximately $22,800 and local revenue in excess of $241,200

These figures were calculated by information obtained from several sources.

Tennessee Department of Safety estimates the current number of citations issued by Tennessee Highway Patrol and county sheriffs to be 2,000 per year, with an average fine of $15.

Local courts receive a 5 percent commission of fine revenue. The state retains 95 percent of fine revenue.

There is a reported 80 percent collection rate for fines.

• A recurring decrease in state revenue of $22,800 (2,000 violations x $15 x 80 percent collection rate x 95 percent).

• A recurring decrease in local revenue to the courts of $1,200 (2,000 violations x $15 x 80 percetn collection rate x 5 percent).

• Local government citations are estimated to be 20,000 per year with an average fine of at least $15.

• Local governments retain 100 percent of fine revenue.

• An 80 percent collection rate for fines.

• A recurring decrease in local revenue exceeding $240,000 (20,000 violations x $15 fine x 80 percent collection rate).

• Any decrease in expenditures resulting from law enforcement no longer enforcing current right turn on red laws will be not significant.

A bill of special interest is one that provides re-establishment of elected office of school superintendent for certain counties or cities upon two-thirds vote of the governing body. Any such ordinance or resolution once approved would not be operative until approved in an election. This law would also provide qualifications of candidates.

This bill is sponsored by State Representative Frank Niceley, Republican from Strawberry Plains, and Senator Stacey Campfield, Republican from Knoxville, and is set for review March 29 in the Education Committee.

In other proposed legislation:

•HB0745/SB0534: Increases the annual income amount of certain elderly taxpayers who are eligible for property tax relief from $24,000 to $26,500 for tax years 2011 and thereafter. (Set for review March 30)

•HB0007/SB0016: Requires a voter to present qualified photographic identification before voting; voters without proper identification shall be allowed to cast provisional ballots. (Set for review March 30)

•SB0010/HB0454: Requires that all written examinations for a driver license or intermediate driver license be in English. (Set for review April 13)

•HB0212/SB0621: Requires animals be restrained while in the interior of a motor vehicle in motion. (Set for review March 29)

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