Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Bristol Herald Courier on a police body camera bill:
Tennessee lawmakers involved in halting a bill on keeping secret police body camera videos deserve thanks for recognizing that the legislation was not ready for prime time. The House State Government Committee correctly referred the issue to Tennessee’s Advisory Committee on Open Government, where the issue is poised to get the study and examination it sorely needs as more agencies turn to using body cameras.
As it was, the bill was ill-formed, coming as it did as an amendment to another bill that had little or nothing to do with body camera videos. The bill would have kept the video confidential until the case was both adjudicated and resulting actions completed. That would’ve amounted to a period of months to years. And such delays would not only hinder but would threaten to drown justice altogether.
The last of three police body cam bills died in the House State Government Committee the morning of April 5, and the issue will be referred to the state Advisory Committee on Open Government. Thanks to everyone who helped on this and there were several. For those who made contact with a lawmaker on the House State Government Committee, please get back to that member and thank them for their support. It might help when we have other issues like this.
The Tennessean on a recently proposed law regarding bathrooms:
One of the recurring themes of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is that Tennessee is open for business.
That attitude has led to unprecedented growth, especially in the Nashville area, leading to a boom in jobs, record-setting tourism numbers and population growth because people want to live, work and play in Middle Tennessee.
Nashville has appeared on numerous national publications’ lists for quality of life, jobs, recreation and food, fashion and music culture.
Tourists and investors from London to Tokyo to Ottawa have sought to strengthen ties with the Volunteer State.
However, that progress is in peril if Tennessee lawmakers decide that they want to join a handful of other states seeking to humiliate and marginalize its minorities, be it because of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
That could send the message that Tennessee is not serious about being open for business. In turn, that will have serious effects on the growing economy.
Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Convention & Visitors Corp., said it plainly: “When the state starts introducing legislation that affects our ability to do business, it is not helpful and needs to be rethought. Our success in the hospitality industry is predicated on a welcoming and friendly environment. We don’t need to do anything to diminish or hinder the success that is driving the state’s economy.”
That includes legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly seeking to require students in public schools and colleges to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate. It is a slap in the face to transgender individuals, blatant ignorance of intersex individuals, and a burden on educators who would be effectively forced to verify the genitalia of their students before letting them use the facilities.
North Carolina is already seeing the backlash for its bathroom bill. PayPal has canceled its plan for a global operations center in Charlotte.
As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, CEO Dan Schulman said: “The new law perpetuates discrimination, and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture. As a result, PayPal will not move forward with our planned expansion into Charlotte.”
Imagine if a CEO said the same thing about Tennessee. Imagine if that led to producers of the popular TV show “Nashville” filming elsewhere even as the state is looking to invest $8 million to keep the show in the city for a fifth season. That show has helped tell the city’s story across the globe.
This will not be a proud moment in Tennessee history if we, through our lawmakers, choose to embrace a legacy of discrimination, not just because of the business the state will lose, but because it is the inhumane thing to do.
Recall the backlash that faced Indiana in 2015 over its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forced lawmakers and the governor to revise it and water down its effect of allowing business owners to discriminate against others based on religious beliefs.
Legislators have already effectively endorsed Christianity as the religion of the state by passing the Bible bill last week, which Haslam will hopefully veto.
He also will hopefully veto any legislation that seeks to discriminate against the citizens he is charged to protect.
If Tennessee is truly open for business, it would be open for business to all people, not just those deemed worthy by the majority of legislators.
The Commercial Appeal on investigations of officer-involved shootings:
The effort to get the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to be the lead agency investigating all shootings by law enforcement officers that result in death or critical injury of another person, and to get their investigations released to the public in a timely manner, continues to be a struggle in the General Assembly.
Given the public concern and outcry in recent years regarding law enforcement officers fatally shooting unarmed black men, including in Memphis, one would think the state’s lawmakers, law enforcement heads and district attorneys general would welcome the increased credibility the TBI would give investigations into the shootings.
And, the timely release of the investigative files into those incidents would provide more public confidence in the impartiality of the investigative agency.
A House committee moved Wednesday to allow public release of TBI investigative reports on officer-involved shootings “after the completion of prosecutorial functions” in such cases.
Testimony in the House Criminal Justice Committee indicated that could be after a trial, if there is one, or after a grand jury declines to issue an indictment in an officer-involved shooting case.
There nothing wrong with that stipulation because it matches the current process of releasing police investigative records under the state open records law.
However, here is where the concern begins. The House amendment puts the bill on a different platform than the Senate version of the bill, which allows a TBI investigative report on an officer-involved shooting to be made public after it is turned over to the local district attorney who asked the TBI to investigate - but only if the district attorney and the local police chief agree to publicly release it.
That does not bode well for transparency in cities and counties where the DA and head police officials have a history of not releasing details of incidents in a timely manner or just the basics, if any information at all.
Both bills are now awaiting further review in the House and Senate finance committees.
Tennessee law currently makes all TBI investigative files permanently confidential, including investigations of officer-involved shootings, even after cases are closed.
When a liberal Democrat from Memphis and a conservative Republican from Germantown can agree on the importance having an independent body investigate such incidents and to have those files eventually open to the public, that should be a wake-up call for their legislative colleagues.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, originally required the TBI to be the lead agency investigating all shootings by law enforcement officers that result in death or critical injury of another person. But the sponsors have given up on passing that mandate during the current legislative session, leaving it to the discretion of local district attorneys to request TBI involvement in investigating shootings by local law enforcement officers.
In October, local officials signed a “memorandum of understanding,” agreeing that the TBI will handle all inquiries into officer-involved deaths for both Memphis police and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. In those investigations, the TBI reports factual findings, but offers no recommendations about whether the use of force was justified. It is up to the district attorney general, the sheriff or police director to pursue criminal or administrative charges against the officer.
We urge legislators to take a second breath and view this from the standpoint that the public is better off when there is confidence that allegations of police misconduct will be investigated in a fair, impartial and transparent manner.
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