As Tennessee's police chiefs watched from the gallery in a show of support, the state House voted Thursday to raise the minimum prison time for armed robbers from 2 years to nearly 6 years.
The bill by House Minority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, would force armed robbers to serve at least 74 percent of the minimum 8-year sentence. Under current law, they must serve only 30 percent of that sentence. The vote was 88-4. The bill awaits action in the Senate.
"In the words of my police chief, Ronal Serpas, who is with us today, 'This is a good bill that is smart on crime.' Under this legislation, we will be using our existing jail cells to house the most dangerous convicted criminals," Odom told the House.
The measure would pay for itself by removing mandatory prison time for first-time offenders who commit one of 19 nonviolent felonies, including passing forged checks or shoplifting merchandise worth less than $1,000. Odom's legislation stalled Monday when Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, objected to changing the sentences for the nonviolent crimes and tried to remove several of them from the list.
Odom accused Hill of political grandstanding. Hill defended himself Thursday before withdrawing his amendment.
"We can yell. We can scream. We can get red in the face. But at the end of the day we all represent the people of the great state of Tennessee," Hill said.