Legislation aimed at allowing local communities to notify residents and businesses of the arrival or presence of certain sexual offenders sailed through the Tennessee State House of Representatives on a 93-0 vote on Thursday.
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The legislation (HB1860), sponsored by State Representative Billy Spivey (R–Lewisburg), allows for local communities to choose to adopt a notification program for residents with regard to the arrival or presence of certain registered sexual offenders. The bill gives full authority to locals to decide whether or not they want to pursue a notification program; it does not require that any changes be made.
“Trusting local residents and leaders is key,” said Spivey. “Every community is different. Some are going to see a real need for establishing a new notification system, and some are not. This bill allows them to make that choice. It allows them to decide how best to serve and protect their communities.”
The legislation was inspired and supported by a grassroots campaign that began in Lincoln County. Sheriff Murray Blackwelder and his assistant, Sandra Metcalf, were on the House floor for the vote.
“This bill is an excellent example of the positive change that can be accomplished right here and now in Tennessee when good folks come together around an important idea at the grass roots level and take action,” Spivey added. “We are blessed to live in such a place and with such people.”
The bill is expected to be signed by Governor Haslam in a few days and will become effective in Lincoln County once the County Commission approves it, presumably in May. The Lincoln County Commission passed a resolution on Jan. 21 that gave approval to the sheriff’s department to request approaching the state legislature with the bill.
“We’re very excited that it originated in a Town Hall meeting in Belleview,” Blackwelder said of the inspiration for the bill. “Basically it’s because of the cooperation of the citizens, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and State Reprehensive (Billy Spivey). This should enable people to have knowledge of a sex offender living in their neighborhood, whether they own a computer or not.”
Metcalf and Blackwelder plan to accompany Spivey when he presents it to the governor.
Once the Lincoln County Commission adopts the amount of footage within a given perimeter of the sex offender’s residence, letters will be sent to all residents within the square footage of that perimeter. The new law would also increase the amount of money sex offenders are required to pay for administrative fees yearly. Currently, they pay $150 per year. The new law would add an additional $5 to $50 to that fee for administrative fees and postage.
Sheriff Blackwelder continued, “I think to an extent it will be a deterrent … They’re at least not going to be able to hide out.”
Metcalf, who is in charge of the Sex Offender Registry in Lincoln County, said Friday that there are currently 62 total sex offenders in the entire county who are registered. Of those, 41 are in the county, five are in Fayetteville and 16 are under supervision by the Board of Probation and Parole.