Sen. Gilmore celebrates new, bipartisan criminal justice reform law

State Sen. Brenda Gilmore

Though the GOP-led legislature rejected larger racial justice initiatives, Sen. Brenda Gilmore is celebrating one bipartisan criminal justice reform that will become law in 2020.

The measure, Senate Bill 2734, right-sizes drug-free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet while strengthening penalties against those who sell drugs to children within these zones. The reform, cosponsored by Sen. Gilmore, also allows for more judicial discretion by reducing mandatory sentencing requirements.

It’s a proud moment for Gilmore, who has been working on similar legislation since 2015.

“We have to take on mandatory minimum sentences. That’s a key component to fixing our broken criminal justice system and over-incarceration problem,” Gilmore said. “Not every case is the same and, with this law, we’re empowering our judges to issue rulings tailored to the offense and the offender. That’s justice.”

Under existing law, judges are forced to issue stiff mandatory minimum sentences for any violations that take place in a drug-free zone, even when children are not involved. Drug-free zones include public or private elementary, middle, secondary schools, childcare agencies, public libraries, recreational centers and parks.

By shrinking these zones, Senate Bill 2734 will reduce arbitrary criminal penalty enhancements that have resulted in over-incarceration and crowded prisons, specifically for young African American men who mostly live in the urban cores in Tennessee.

The legislation was signed by the senate speaker June 23 and will soon make its way to the governor’s desk for final approval. The bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell. Sens. Raumesh Akbari, Jeff Yarbro and John Stevens were co-sponsors.

Gilmore says she’s not done improving this law either.

“There are people in prison right now whose non-violent drug sentences would be done under this new law,” Sen. Gilmore said. “The legislature has admitted ‘we made a mistake,’ and now it’s time to correct the injustice by matching existing sentences to the new rules.”

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