TN Black Caucus continues town hall meetings in Nashville

TN Black Caucus members listened to community members express their views in a town hall meeting last Thursday. 

TN Black Caucus members listened to community members express their views in a town hall meeting last Thursday.

The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators held a town hall meeting last Thursday, August 17th in Nashville at 6:00PM at Lee Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1200 Dr. D. B. Todd Blvd to hear constituent concerns.

The lawmakers also provided an update on the legislative package passed by the Caucus earlier this year, as well as funding the Black Caucus secured in Governor Bill Haslam’s budget.

Criminal Justice Reform is always a hot topic at these meetings. A very important bill was passed entitled HB 0277 that requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) investigative reports on officer involved shooting deaths to be disclosed to the public as an open record after the District Attorney General has completed its prosecutorial function. It also authorizes the District Attorney General to disclose all or part of the investigative record to the public prior to the record becoming public record.

The main focus of the meeting however was for Caucus members to have the opportunity to hear from the general public about what type of legislation they would like to see the Caucus proposes next year.

They would like to take the feedback they gather in these town hall meetings and use that information to help build our statewide agenda for the 2018 legislative session.

Before the meeting a community member addressed her concern that her opinion and the opinion of others didn’t matter when it came to giving “criminals” a second chance because the state didn’t expunge her record.

State Representative Raumesh Akbari who proposed many bills dealing with expunction responded with the following statement:
“Your opinion does matter, which is why we are working so hard to change these unjust laws. It’s not always easy- we have to convince 131 other members of the general assembly that our idea is a good one. Likely the offenses you speak of are not eligible. Currently the law only allows non-violent offenses to be expunged. Which we believe is unjust, especially given that you have not had any additional convictions for 13 years. Rep. Shaw and members of the caucus are working to broaden the eligible offenses with new legislation. It passed in the House this year, and we are working to get it passed in the Senate next year.

Please know that I agree with you- it’s unfair and unjust, but I am working hard to change this. As with all things, it takes time, and faces stiff opposition.”

Bill HB 0873 was passed last year and led by Akbari. It deals with dual expunction and permits the petition for expungement of no more than two convictions. Eligibility stipulates two misdemeanors or one misdemeanor and one felony and also stipulates a certain time period must have elapsed on a drug fraud offense once completion of the sentence.

Three laws were also passed to support and address heath disparities. At the meeting the caucus presented HBCYU Wellness Tennessee with a 500,000 dollar check.

Rep. Love says, “The TN Black Caucus Series of Town Hall meetings are an important tool for Legislators to keep our constituents aware of what work we did during the last Legislative Session and simultaneously hear from them what issues we should consider going into next Session.”

Following the town hall meeting several Democratic lawmakers spoke to USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee about their efforts to have removed the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also a Ku Klux Klan leader.

“It’s our hope that between now and January, the (Tennessee Historical Commission) will hear the governor’s sentiment,” said Rep. Harold Love.

Love was referring to Gov. Bill Haslam’s statement Monday encouraging the state’s Capitol and Historical Commissions to approve the removal of the bust. Meetings were also held in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Bolivar and Cookeville.