By Nick Banaszak
FAYETTEVILLE (WHNT) - A push for tougher sex offender notification laws in Tennessee came one step closer to reality Tuesday, part of an ongoing effort that originated in Lincoln County several months ago.
A committee in the Tennessee Legislature approved HB 1860 (Video), a bill that would allow municipal and county governments to mail written notices and post flyers in communities that convicted sex offenders move to.
Tennessee lists all of its registered sex offenders on a state website, the only legal method of notification the Volunteer State currently has. But Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder said residents who don’t know about the site, or those who don’t have internet access, are vulnerable to potential danger. Blackwelder said issues with the current system came to a head at a community meeting in a rural part of the county last year.
“They [residents] were concerned because they weren’t notified that sex offenders were living in their communities,” said Blackwelder. “When we discussed the TBI website, it became evident that a lot of these people did not have access to the TBI website nor access to the internet.”
Sheriff Blackwelder decided to contact state legislators about the dilemma, a brainstorming session that gave birth to the Tennessee Community Notification Act. Blackwelder said it guarantees awareness for parents, and is cost-effective.
“This gives parents the knowledge of who is in their community,” said Blackwelder. “It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime…In this bill there is an additional 50 dollar fee assessed to the sex offender. That 50 dollars will be earmarked for community notification.”
Alabama and several other neighboring states already have similar laws in place. Lincoln County officials said it’s one reason why several sex offenders have recently moved north of the state line.
Both bodies of the Tennessee Legislature are expected to formally vote on HB 1860 in the next few weeks.