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Tennessee lawmakers look to change sex offender legislation

Associated Press • Feb 25, 2020 at 5:32 AM

NASHVILLE — A federal lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of a Tennessee statute making it a felony for sex offenders to live with their own young children has prompted moves by state legislators to amend the 2019 law.

Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law to make convicted sex offenders subject to arrest if they were alone with, spent the night with, or lived with their children under age 12. But three convicted sex offenders immediately filed suit and the law never took effect last year amid the challenge.

The men — identified simply as John Doe 1, 2 and 3 — alleged the ban violated their constitutional rights because it would effectively result in their loss of parental rights without a trial. Each completed sentences and treatment following crimes involving victims under 12.

A federal judge initially blocked the law from taking effect. A separate judge said the lawsuit should continue to be paused — despite objection from the plaintiffs — to give the GOP-dominant General Assembly a June 30 deadline of this year for amending the law.

Judge Waverly Crenshaw Jr. wrote in his Feb. 18 order that pausing the lawsuit was necessary because allowing the case to move through the courts could result in “unnecessary litigation.”

On Monday, the Tennessee Senate unanimously approved a new version with no one debating or questioning the revised proposal. Under the amended proposal, convicted sex offenders could spend time with and live with their own child under 12, but only if a court hasn’t ruled they would present a harm to that minor.

Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, said the new proposal “sets up a procedure that the offender, after two years, could re-petition the court if their circumstances change.”

The measure must now clear the House.

This is the second measure the Statehouse has had to overhaul this year after facing litigation on bills signed into law by Lee.

Last year, the governor signed GOP-backed legislation that made Tennessee the first state in the country to fine registration groups for turning in too many incomplete signup forms. It also criminalized intentional infractions of other new rules with misdemeanor charges.

The law immediately triggered two lawsuits and was blocked by a federal judge.

Tennessee lawmakers have decided to once again back new rules on how to sign up new voters that hopefully avoid a lawsuit.

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