Sentencing Laws Protecting Tennessee Children Start This Week

Photo Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation / CC

Published June 29, 2021

By Jon Styf [The Center Square contributor] –

Several new Tennessee criminal justice laws aimed at protecting children will start Thursday, the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Three of the laws were created after newsworthy cases in recent years, including Eli’s Law, Evelyn Boswell’s Law and a new requirement that families receiving subsidies must provide the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services annually with medical and school records.

The latter comes after Michael Anthony Gray Sr., Shirley Gray and Michael Anthony Gray Jr. were charged in the deaths of adoptive children in Roane and Knox counties and with fraud for collecting for collecting TennCare benefits after the children had died. The trio was accused of starving the children and keeping them in isolation in cages.

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“The department may initiate a visit to ascertain the well-being of the child if the person fails to provide the required documentation,” reads Public Chapter 163, which was sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston.

Eli’s Law, Public Chapter 568, was sponsored by Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. It creates a requirement that when a newborn arrives from parents who have had another child removed from their home by DCS, the same court which had a hearing for the older sibling will hold another hearing for the newborn to review whether that child also should be removed.

Ronda Paulson of Isaiah 117 House appeared during discussion of the bill in 2020 and told the story of her foster son, Isaiah, who had been removed from his home, and his younger sibling, Eli, who was allowed to go to that same home for the first three weeks of his life and subjected to abuse before he also was removed after the father “threw a couch through the window of the trailer,” Paulson said.

“Although those caregivers were deemed unfit for Isaiah, they were allowed to take Eli home,” she said.

Evelyn Boswell’s Law, Public Chapter 107, creates a Class A misdemeanor charge if a parent does not report a missing child within 24 hours. The law applies to children who are age 12 and under and was created after Boswell, a 15-month-old from Sullivan County, was found dead after not being reported missing for months.

Evelyn’s mother, Megan Boswell, faces felony murder charges in the case.

Among the sentencing changes going into effect Thursday is Public Chapter 563, which makes certain that parole and probation are not allowed in crimes including child abuse, child sexual abuse, felony solicitation of a minor and producing child pornography.

“This Republican majority has always made cracking down on crimes against children a priority,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who sponsored the truth in sentencing bill with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Bell, R-Riceville. “This year has been no different. Part of criminal justice reform is drawing a bold, bright line between those crimes for which we can show mercy and allow some flexibility in sentencing and those we cannot. Crimes against children simply cannot be tolerated. A society that does not protect its children is not worthy of calling itself one. I am proud of all the legislation we passed this year specifically to protect children and commend the sponsors for their excellent work.”

Other related bills that will go into effect Thursday include:

• Public Chapter 525: Requires anyone convicted of facilitation of rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child to serve their full sentence, along with community supervision for life.

• Public Chapter 363: Removes a statute of limitations for commercial sex trafficking of a child that occurs on or after Thursday.

• Public Chapter 436: Prevents juveniles convicted of a crime that would be considered rape if it was committed by an adult from working or volunteering somewhere they would have frequent contact with children.

• Public Chapter 508: Expands what is defined as severe child abuse to exposing a child to certain dangerous drugs.

• Public Chapter 511: Expands child neglect and endangerment to exposing a child to methamphetamines and dangerous drugs.

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About the Author:

Jon Styf is a freelance writer for Tennessee and South Carolina.

Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.

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