Update on legislation in Tennessee that would force families to separate

By Sandy . . . We first reported on this in June of last year. The Tennessee legislature had just passed a bill, due to take effect July 1, 2019, with a single provision added to an already existing statute: It would disallow the right of parents to be alone with or live in the same home with their own minor children — 17 or younger — if  “…the offender has been convicted of a sexual offense or violent sexual offense the victim of which was a child under twelve (12) years of age.”

Almost immediately legal action was begun. Plaintiffs came forward, attorneys stepped up, and a suit was filed along with the request for a temporary restraining order, which was granted.

Even though the TRO was extended, Judge Waverly Crenshaw, Jr. paused the lawsuit until the legislature could produce a reasonable amendment to the law, giving them until June 30 of this year to do so.

The legislature has acted. New language has been proposed and unanimously approved by the Tennessee Senate.

As reported at News Channel 9, “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.” For parents who are denied under this ruling, they will apparently be able to “…re-petition the court if their circumstances change.”

Many, many questions demand answers.

Under what circumstances will a court be able to rule that potential harm to a minor existed? Will  psychological evaluations be required first? If so, who will bear the burden of expense for the evaluations? Will a judge be able to state that, simply based on his own opinion, the registrant does present potential harm? Will registrant parents who are now, and have been, living with their own children be free to continue with no further action as long a court has never declared them to be potential dangers, or will they, as the word “re-petition” suggest, have to petition the court for a hearing to determine their risk? If that is the case, will they be forced to leave their homes and families until the outcome of the hearings?

The legislation must now pass the House.

Before it does, we sincerely hope that someone will ask and have answered these important questions.

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Sandy is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.

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