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2024 Legislative Preview: Crime and Public Safety

Posted on Saturday, January 20, 2024 at 3:00 pm

Senate – State of Tennessee

Legislative Update from Senator Joey Hensley, MD

2024 Legislative Preview: Crime and Public Safety

We are preparing for a busy 2024 Legislative Session in Nashville where we will address a variety of important issues facing Tennesseans including improvements to Tennessee’s public safety.

Crime and Public Safety A main priority of the General Assembly is to ensure Tennessee is a great place to live, work and raise a family. Protecting Tennessee communities from crime is a major aspect of this creed. Cracking down on crime and improving public safety is an ongoing focus of the General Assembly, but expect it to be an even bigger focus in the 2024 legislative session. In August, Governor Bill Lee called a special session to address public safety and lawmakers proposed over one hundred bills on the topic. Due to time constraints, ultimately only a handful of bills proposed by Governor Lee for the special session were considered. Many of the bills proposed by lawmakers for the special session will be refiled in the 2024 legislative session.  This year, expect lawmakers to hone in even closer on legislation to make Tennessee communities safer by giving law enforcement more tools to remove criminals from the streets, ensuring the criminal justice system gives appropriate sentences to offenders, and enhancing penalties for violent crimes committed with firearms.

Blended Sentencing In 2023, the Senate passed blended sentencing legislation, though the legislation did not pass in the House prior to adjournment. The legislation would give judges the ability to apply blended sentencing of juvenile prison and adult prison for juveniles who commit crimes in their late teens and will age out of the juvenile justice system before their sentence term is up. A blended sentencing approach would ensure that juveniles who commit crimes have adequate time to be rehabilitated before being released to the public. The goal is to reduce juvenile recidivism rates and keep dangerous criminals off the streets. Blended sentencing is already in place in at least 20 other states. Expect this legislation to come back in the 2024 legislative session and generate much discussion.

Threats of Mass Violence Among proposals planned for the 2024 session is legislation to increase the penalty for threatening mass violence from a misdemeanor to a felony. Under the legislation, a person who threatens mass violence would be charged with a felony and subsequently tried for the crime in a court of law where they would receive full due process consistent with the United States Constitution.

Closing Holes in Criminal Justice System In major cities in Tennessee, lenient judges let violent offenders out on low bail to await trial, only for those offenders to skip their court date or go on to commit more crimes while out on bail. Perhaps the most egregious case of this recently was the deadly stray bullet that hit Belmont University student Jillian Ludwig while she was walking in a park in Nashville in November 2023. The shot was fired from an offender with an extensive criminal history who had posted $10,000 bail in September for vehicle theft. The offender, Shaquille Taylor, also had charges dropped for several violent crimes because he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial by the court. Despite this determination, he did not meet the standard for being involuntarily committed.

Allowing Taylor to roam free with a violent criminal history was a systematic failure, and the tragic death of Jillian Ludwig launched a public conversation about issues with the bail bond system and the process for involuntary commitments.

Expect legislation to be proposed in 2024 to set stricter parameters for judges when setting bail and working to improve the process for involuntarily committing someone to a mental institution. Lawmakers agree that if a person is deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for violent crimes, it goes against the public’s best interest to allow that person to roam free. However, there will be debate on how to best close those loopholes.

Mandatory universal filing for court system Legislation mandating court systems across the state use a universal filing system is expected to be brought forth this session. The system will streamline the filing process and ensure judges and prosecutors have up-to-date information so defendants and perpetrators can be punished based on their full and complete criminal history.

Enhancing penalties for crimes committed with firearms During the special session a slate of legislation was proposed to impose stricter penalties for crimes committed with firearms. These proposals did not have the chance to be considered during the special session but are expected to be filed again for the 2024 legislative session.

You may contact Senator Hensley at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville TN  37243; 615-741-3100; e-mail: