Pain clinic regulations, more jail time for crimes against children, are among coalition's goals

Hank Hayes • Mar 23, 2013 at 12:26 PM

KINGSPORT — Reeling in so-called “pill mills,” otherwise known as pain management clinics, leads the legislative agenda advocated by the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition (TPSC) this year. TPSC also wants increased jail time in crimes involving a child, a tighter loophole in firearms transfer and carry permits, criminalizing computer hacking and more staffing in prosecutors’ offices.

TPSC represents the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.

In backing the bill to regulate pain management clinics, TPSC hopes to attack prescription drugs being bought legally and then resold illegally on the street.

“There’s no accountability for them,” Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long said of the clinics. “We’re seeing a lot of misuse and abuse of prescription medication. ... Most of (the clinics) are moving into strip mall areas with no advertisement. No one knows who they are until you see druggies starting to come. ... If we start doing enforcement, the next thing you know they are gone. They move to another strip mall. The only thing they have to do is get a business license.”

The “pill mill” bill calls for more oversight and training and limits dispensing opiate and narcotic drugs to 30 days. It also requires prescribers to report to a Controlled Substance Monitoring Database, register with the federal government and eliminate cash payments. But the bill as originally filed has a cost issue. The state’s Fiscal Review Office projects the legislation would create more than $170 million in drug and diagnostic testing expenses in the state’s TennCare program for low income residents.

Concerning crimes involving a child, TPSC is supporting legislation calling for a minimum 85 percent jail sentence for those convicted of aggravated child neglect or endangerment. Such offenders currently serve only 30 percent of their jail sentence before being eligible for parole.

“People who neglect children should get the same thing abusers do,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said.

TPSC also backs a separate “serial child predator” bill that would create penalties for continuous sexual child abuse, including a new felony offense for sexually abusing a child three or more times over a 90-day period. The legislation also requires prosecutors to file a notice with the court identifying multiple acts of sexual child abuse. Currently in Tennessee, child sexual abuse defendants with different victims are allowed to be tried separately in jurisdictions where the alleged crimes occurred.

Staubus said the inspiration for the serial child predator legislation was the case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of more than 40 counts of child sexual abuse in one trial.

In legislation involving firearms, TPSC wants the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to deny a gun’s transfer if the purchaser’s carry permit is suspended or revoked. The bill would also require more information concerning mental health, domestic assault and felony indictments to be sent to the TBI so it can determine if a person is eligible to purchase a firearm or remain eligible to have a handgun carry permit.

Concerning computer privacy, TPSC is hoping to pass a bill creating a felony for intentional unauthorized access to a computer network, including computers owned by law enforcement.

Lastly, TPSC is seeking funding for 31 new assistant prosecutor positions to deal with growing caseloads. But the bill to create those positions, a recurring TPSC agenda item, has a price tag exceeding $2 million.

“We’re told (by the state) that everyone needs money,” First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said. “Crime is going up, and we have the same manpower we had 20 years ago.”

For more go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The pain management clinic bill is SB 676. The bills attacking child abuse are SB 828 and SB 1362. The firearm transfer bill is SB 878. The computer invasion bill is SB 1081. The bill creating 31 assistant prosecutor positions is SB 974.

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