Hulsey, R-Kingsport, had filed a similar bill last year, but he had to amend it. Even with the amendment, however, the legislation had a $37 million fiscal impact.
Hulsey’s new bill limits the prohibition of sentence reduction credits to persons convicted of three types of violent felonies and authorizes those inmates to continue to earn sentence reduction credits but specifies those credits will not reduce the inmates’ release eligibility dates but rather will apply toward expiration of the inmates’ sentence.
“(The bill) also has a presumption that … nonviolent felons will be released on their RED (release eligibility date),” Hulsey told the subcommittee. “ … We’re putting victims and victims’ families into a great deal of trauma when nobody knows when a judge gives a sentence and exactly how long someone is going to be in there (in jail).”
Hulsey had filed the initial bill after James Hamm, convicted in the 2014 drunken hit-and-run that killed Kingsport businessman and Hulsey’s friend Mike Locke, was denied parole in 2017.
In May 2016, Hamm received a 14-year prison sentence, but his parole eligibility came up after he used sentencing credits for good behavior.
State Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Ketron, suggested there first needs to be an overall judicial reform measure crafted and filed by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.
The new bill, according to the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, has a $7.1 million fiscal impact.
“A bill of this magnitude will probably have to come from a much higher … the governor’s office and address complete judicial reform .… I agree with what you’re trying to do; however, it would be difficult for me to support a bill coming out of this committee when we have a $7.1 million note,” Sanderson pointed out.
Hulsey responded: “Don’t shut me out yet. … I still have time to work on this. … Don’t let me die on the vine yet. I think there’s hope for (the bill).”
State Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, agreed with Sanderson.
“I fully support your efforts, and if we can get the governor’s office on board, I’m sure I’ll be on board as well,” Griffey told Hulsey.
State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, noted that sometimes bills have to advance in subcommittees to start getting attention.
“I just ask my colleagues that if you’re for his bill and think it is a good idea, you just may need to get some attention to his bill,” Mitchell told lawmakers.
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, 31.4 percent of offenders will re-offend within one year of their release. The department also says the average operating cost per offender per day is currently $73.18.
Standard offenders, under Tennessee law, serve at least 30 percent of their sentence. Career offenders serve 60 percent.
Hulsey’s legislation will now be considered by the House Judiciary Committee.
For more information, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The bill’s number is HB 0197.