Hulsey's truth-in-sentencing bill passes

Hank Hayes • May 3, 2019 at 6:00 PM

NASHVILLE — A corrected fiscal note has allowed truth-in-sentencing legislation filed by two local lawmakers to sail through the Tennessee General Assembly.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey and Sen. Jon Lundberg, would prevent violent felons from using sentencing credits to speed up their release eligibility date while nonviolent felons would get to use those sentencing credits.

The legislation initially indicated it would increase state expenditures by $7.1 million, but based upon the nonviolent felons being set free, the bill is expected to save the state $7.6 million, according to its corrected fiscal note.

“That drives the cost savings,” explained Torrey Grimes, a staff attorney at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC).

Hulsey, R-Kingsport, said he knew all along the initial fiscal note had to be wrong.

“I knew the information they were getting from the parole board and from the Department of Correction was not adding up,” Hulsey pointed out. “ … I found out the person who was always able to pull specific data … believe it or not had retired and they had some fresh folks in there. … Finally, we isolated out the nonviolent (felons) out in 2018 who had an eligible (release date) and they could have gone (free) but were denied parole. There were 441 of them. I took that to Fiscal Review and told them, ‘Here’s the real data.’ ”

Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the bill is good for crime victims.

“It’s good, frankly, for the perpetrator because they can say, ‘Judge, how long am I going to stay in jail?’ And the judge can say, ‘At least this much,’ ” Lundberg noted.

A standard offender serves at least 30 percent of a jail term, while a career offender serves at least 60 percent, according to the TDOC.

The bill passed 87-3 in the House and an amended version passed in the Senate 31-0 vote on Wednesday. But the House did not concur with the amended bill, and the Senate refused to recede from the amended version. A conference committee was assembled and its report assigning the effective date of the bill as July 1 was adopted by both the House and Senate.

Hulsey crafted the legislation following the drunken hit-and-run death of his friend, Mike Locke, in 2014. James Hamm was convicted of that crime but used sentencing credits in an attempt to win parole. He was denied.

For more, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The bill’s number is HB 0197.