By RICK NORTON
Two Bradley County lawmakers are encouraged by proposed legislation making its way through committee in the state House of Representatives that will better protect victims of domestic abuse.Called …
Two Bradley County lawmakers are encouraged by proposed legislation making its way through committee in the state House of Representatives that will better protect victims of domestic abuse.
Called “Safe at Home,” the new program — if approved by both branches of the Tennessee General Assembly — will help victims of violence, and their children, “… to take back their lives by preventing an abuser from locating them through public records searches and inflicting additional harm,” according to state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Dan Howell.
Brooks (R-Cleveland) who represents the 24th Legislative District, and who is ending his 12-year tenure in state government after the current session in Nashville, stressed that for many victims of domestic abuse, stalking and similar crimes, the hope of “… escaping abusers is no easy task.”
In 2016 alone, 78,100 domestic violence offenses were reported in Tennessee, the legislative duo pointed out in their summary of work carried out in Nashville last week.
“In more than 80 percent of these reported incidents, the primary victim was either a woman or a child,” said Howell (R-Georgetown), who represents the 22nd Legislative District. “In more than half of the reported cases, the victim was physically injured.”
Brooks added, “Victims may need to move to other towns, switch jobs, move their children to different schools, or even change their names just to escape their abusers.”
But sometimes even that’s not enough because abusers can still find them by searching public records online.
That’s where House Bill 2025 comes in.
As introduced, the legislation will create a program known nationally as “Safe at Home,” which has been implemented by more than 35 states across the nation.
“The goal is to help survivors of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, stalking and other crimes in their efforts to keep their abusers from finding them,” Howell explained.
The lawmakers explained how it works. “Safe at Home” provides victims with a government-managed substitute address, such as post office box, for both themselves and their children.
“This address can then be used to obtain a driver’s license, to register to vote and to complete most other government forms without disclosing the participant’s home address,” Brooks said. “Once enrolled, the participant can provide the substitute address to virtually all government entities in Tennessee.”
Howell added that participants can request that other nongovernmental entities, such as their employers and other private businesses, use this address as well.
According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports from 2016, along with the 78,100 incidents of domestic violence — including rape — that were reported to police, there were also 91 murders related to domestic violence.
“These cases account for more than 51 percent of all crimes against individuals that were reported in that year,” Howell explained. “These dramatic statistics demonstrate this program is a critical step toward protecting victims of these types of domestic-abuse crimes.”
Brooks pointed out the bill — if passed — will make communities safer by reducing crime for all Tennessee residents.
numbers in state
After the first week of applications for adults to enroll tuition-free this fall at a community or technical college (such as Cleveland State Community College) through Tennessee Reconnect, more than 4,000 adults had filed the necessary paperwork.
“As has been reported for some time now, Tennessee Reconnect will help adults who want to go back to school to advance their futures,” Brooks said.
The new program builds off the groundbreaking Tennessee Promise initiative that provides high school graduates two years of tuition-free community or technical college.
Tennessee Reconnect establishes last-dollar scholarships for adults to earn an associate degree or technical certificate free of tuition or mandatory fees.
Both initiatives operate under the “Drive to 55” strategy whose goal is to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
“Over time, this is becoming common knowledge,” Howell said. “That is, that by 2025, at least half the jobs in Tennessee will require a college degree or certificate.”
Brooks used some study results to support the program’s impact.
“Early results of the Tennessee Promise program show that students participating in the program are succeeding at higher rates than their peers,” the Cleveland legislator said. “Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, including high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.”
Application deadline for Tennessee Reconnect is April 15.
House lawmakers have passed legislation that adds protections for parents and children involved in violent custody cases, the legislative summary explained.
“House Bill 1546 empowers a parent or legal guardian who has been the victim of an attempted murder to petition a judge to terminate parental rights of the individual convicted of the offense,” Howell said. “The measure enhances current protections for children involved in these types of cases.”
Brooks added, “It also strengthens laws for parents or legal guardians who have survived attempts at their lives while increasing punishment guidelines for presiding judges.”
He continued, “Too often, the state has seen a parent or legal guardian cross a very dangerous line, resulting in the serious injury of their partner or spouse. As passed, House Bill 1546 aims to provide an additional deterrent in these specific instances while also protecting the safety of our children and surviving parents.”
hunger in state
In one of the Tennessee Legislature’s more unique drives, the House joined with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation to support families in need through donations to the statewide “Hunters for the Hungry” initiative.
Not only are Brooks and Howell supporters of the anti-hunger initiative, the legislation also gets strong endorsement from state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) who represents the 9th Senatorial District. A career farmer in McMinn County who graduated Bradley Central High School and Cleveland State Community College, Bell is also an avid hunter.
“’Hunters for the Hungry’ is a unique program providing healthy protein to hungry Tennesseans,” Howell explained. “When hunters harvest a deer, they may donate it to ‘Hunters for the Hungry’ at a participating processor. The venison is processed for free or at a reduced rate, and then provided to area food banks or soup kitchens.”
One deer provides as many as 168 meals of venison, according to the summary.
Brooks said donations from House lawmakers will fund processing and distribution of venison to communities across the state. Now in its 20th year, “Hunters for the Hungry” has provided almost six million meals.
Brooks described the program as “… neighbors giving back to neighbors.”
The intent of House Bill 1515 is to “… ease the regulatory burden on Tennessee motorists involved in minor traffic accidents,” the legislative summary reports.
“House Bill 1515 increases the property damage threshold for which a motor vehicle accident requires a written report to be filed with the Department of Safety from $400 to $1,500,” Brooks noted. “The measure also reduces the backlog of accident reports currently on the Tennessee Department of Safety’s books.”
Howell put the proposed legislation in perspective.
“While this tweak to current law may seem minor, supporters of the legislation agree the last thing someone involved in an accident should have to worry about is a burdensome regulation that requires an extra form to be filed with the state,” the Georgetown lawmaker explained.
Brooks added, “As passed, the legislation eases burdens on Tennessee motorists and frees up taxpayer-funded policing resources to be used in other, more important safety areas.”
House Bill 1515 now awaits passage in the Senate.
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