Backing up tough talk
Then-candidate Bill Haslam and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons held a public discussion concerning crime on Sept. 16, 2010, in Memphis. A press release on the event included the following quote for Haslam:
"I agree with General Gibbons that if the state wants to get serious about reducing crime and keeping our communities safe that we must increase the penalties for committing violent crimes.”
It was not by happenstance that Memphis was the location for Haslam to unleash his get-tough-on-crime promise. The city has been a perennial entry on the list of Top 10 most dangerous cities in America.
Since his election, Haslam has made good on his promise on several fronts. First, in June 2011 Haslam signed into law a bill to combat methamphetamine manufacturing. The law increased penalties for making meth in the presence of children and imposed minimum mandatory fines on some offenders. Tennessee has been a national leader in meth production.
Then on Jan. 10, 2012, he announced a public safety action plan that included tougher sentencing for certain types of gang-related crimes, tougher sentencing for gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions and mandatory jail time for repeat domestic violence offenders.
On March 26, 2012, the House approved and sent to Haslam two anti-crime bills. The gun measure changes the penalty for illegal possession of a firearm by convicted felons from a Class E felony, which carries a one- to six-year sentence and up to a $3,000 fine, to a Class C felony, which carries a penalty of three- to 15-years and up to $10,000 fine. The other measure enhances the penalty for aggravated assault, robbery or aggravated burglary committed by groups of three or more people by moving the crime one classification higher than if they had acted alone. The third item in Haslam's package, concerning mandatory time for repeat domestic violence offenders, is still in the Legislature. There is some concern because of the increased burden it could place on county jails.
Which brings us to a point we should bring up before making our ruling. We need to refer to a previous Politifact ruling concerning a Haslam promise to make jails more efficient and cut down on their costs. We have mentioned to the governor's office that increasing jail time with all of these measures seems to be at odds with the promise to drive down the immense cost to taxpayers of housing prisoners. The office indicated then that the governor believes these tougher measures will make bad guys think twice about committing crimes and greatly cut the number of people filling jails, meaning less, not more overall jail time and expense to taxpayers. We"ll keep an eye on how this plays out and update that Haslam-O-Meter item.
There is certainly no arguing about this Haslam-O-Meter item. We give the governor a Promise Kept.
Project VOTE SMART: "Haslam and Gibbons Talk Crime in Memphis and Discuss Solutions for the State”
Forbes.com: "America's Most Dangerous Cities”
Msnbc.com: "Crime Is Down, But These Cities Are Still Dangerous”
TN.gov: "Haslam Signs Comprehensive Anti-Meth Bill into Law”
The Commercial Appeal: "Tennessee House Approves Pair of Anti-Crime Bills”
Poltifacts.com: "Doors Open on Jail Plan”