NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hundreds of new laws related to crime and criminal offenses will take effect next month on July 1, 2023.
The Tennessee 113th General Assembly passed several laws creating new offenses for crimes like parentage fraud or selling “obscene matter” to schools. Other bills focus on modifying existing offenses to create harsher penalties or remove certain requirements.
A number of bills relate to drug possession — something which has been top of mind as overdoses continue to rise across the United States. Many overdoses in recent years have been attributed to fentanyl and other drugs like xylazine that officials say are increasingly being used illicitly.
Some of the laws passed by the legislature flew under the radar amid other more controversial bills like SB0003, which makes it a crime to engage in an “adult cabaret performance” on public property and SB0001, which prohibits gender-affirming care for minors who are transgender.
Below are seven additional crime bills you might have missed that go into effect July 1 in Tennessee.
‘One Pill Will Kill Act’ (HB0702/SB0193)
This bill adds fentanyl, carfentanil, remifentanil, alfentanil and thiafentanil to what constitutes a qualifying controlled substance for certain felony offenses. Under current law, it is an offense to manufacture, sell, deliver or possess controlled substances.
If the controlled substance contains 0.5 grams or more of fentanyl, then the offense will now be considered a Class B felony and the imposed fine can be up to $100,000. Class B felonies carry a possible sentence of eight to 30 years in prison.
Possessing less than 0.5 grams of fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives will be considered a Class C felony, which carries a lesser sentence. However, if the suspect was carrying a deadly weapon during the offense or the offense resulted in death or injury, then it will become a Class B felony.
This law already applied to cocaine and methamphetamine. The bill dubbed the “One Pill Will Kill Act” simply adds fentanyl to the list of drugs that qualify. However, it only applies to offenses committed on or after July 1, 2023.
‘Drug of the Living Dead Act’ (HB1242/SB1398)
Under this law, it will be a Class A misdemeanor to knowingly possess xylazine and any salt, sulfate, isomer, homologue, analog or other preparation of xylazine. Manufacturing or selling xylazine will be a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of three to 15 years in prison.
Xylazine — also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope” — is an animal tranquilizer that is commonly used to sedate horses and cattle. It is not approved for human use, but over the last three years, it has been detected in a higher number of suspected overdose deaths in the Nashville area.
According to the Metro Public Health Department, the illicit use of xylazine has also been associated with severe skin wounds that may result in limb amputation, and repeated use can result in dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
The new law specifies that it is not an offense to possess, manufacture, deliver or sell xylazine if it’s being used for a “legitimate veterinary practice.” The bill also makes exemptions for anyone possessing a valid prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
‘Silas Gable Flatt Law’ (HB1198/SB1318)
This bill enacts the “Silas Gable Flatt Law,” which makes it an offense for someone to knowingly provide a vehicle to another person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The law also applies to a person whose driver’s license is revoked due to an alcohol or drug related driving offense.
The bill was named after an unborn child, whose family was traveling from Livingston to Cookeville when they were hit head-on by an intoxicated driver. Silas was just 50 hours away from being born and died as a result of the crash.
According to Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), who introduced the bill, the person responsible for the crash was on their third DUI. However, a parent had reportedly given that person permission to drive their car.
The offense will be considered a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days in prison or a fine of up to $2,500. If the offense is the person’s first violation, they must be sentenced to a minimum of 48 hours of incarceration.
A second violation will result in a minimum sentence of 72 hours of incarceration, and a third violation will lead to seven consecutive days of incarceration. The only exception is if a person was granted a restricted driver’s license and provided a vehicle for a court-approved purpose.
Selling ‘obscene matter’ to schools (HB0841/SB1059)
This bill makes it a Class E felony for a book publisher, distributor or seller to knowingly sell or distribute “obscene matter” to a public school serving any of the grades K-12. A Class E felony carries a sentence of one to six years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $3,000.
In addition to the punishment for a Class E felony, this bill makes it so that a person who sells or distributes “obscene matter” to a public school will be fined at least $10,000, but not more than $100,000. The bill does not specify what constitutes “obscene matter.”
Criminal exposure to HIV (HB0832/SB0807)
Under this law, someone convicted of not disclosing an HIV diagnosis to a sexual partner, or criminal exposure to HIV, will no longer be required to register as a sex offender.
Anyone who was required to register as a sex offender because he or she was convicted of criminal exposure to HIV before July 1, 2023 will be able to file a request for termination of registration requirements with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) headquarters in Nashville.
Part of the process will include the TBI conducting fingerprint-based state and federal criminal history checks to determine whether the offender has been convicted of any additional sexual offenses or violent sexual offenses.
If the requirements are met, the TBI will remove the person’s name from the registry and notify them that they are no longer required to comply with the registration requirements.
Parentage fraud (HB0253/SB0331)
This bill creates a Class B misdemeanor of parentage fraud. The law applies when a person seeks to be legally established as a child’s biological parent but knows or reasonably should know that they are not the child’s biological parent.
Anyone who seeks to legally establish another person as the biological parent of a child in order to deprive them of property or to prevent the child’s actual biological parent from exercising parental rights will also be committing parentage fraud.
A Class B misdemeanor is publishable by a sentence of six months of incarceration or a fine of up to $500. The law does not apply in situations where the child was conceived through rape, when the child has been adopted or when the victim was the suspect’s spouse.
Punishment for voluntary manslaughter (HB0722/SB0435)
Under this law, those convicted of voluntary manslaughter will face a harsher sentence. The offense was previously considered a Class C felony, but this bill changes the classification to a Class B felony, which carries a sentence of eight to 30 years of imprisonment or a $25,000 fine.
In Tennessee, state law maintains that a person commits voluntary manslaughter when they kill someone while in a state of passion “produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.”