As proposed, Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding package would eliminate 57 positions dedicated to enforcing drunken driving laws by district attorneys general staff across the state. The Times-Free Press reports the governor is open to address the resulting concerns of prosecutors.
The provision in question in the governor’s legislation, which would also raise fuel taxes, would outlaw open containers of alcoholic beverages in cars on the road. Because Tennessee doesn’t already have an open container prohibition, $18 million in federal highway funds cannot be used for road construction and maintenance and instead goes to other programs – including $6.5 million now used for special DUI prosecutors, training and police overtime for DUI enforcement. With passage of the governor’s plan, all $18 million would be shifted to road construction.
“We’re aware of that,” the governor said last week. “We fund some DUI [enforcement], DAs through that. We’re willing to look at other ways to make sure that function gets paid for. We realize that’s critical.”
…Jerry Estes, former 10th Judicial District attorney general and now executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, recently said DAs in 25 of the state’s 31 judicial districts rely on the funding. He said prosecutors are hoping to work something out.
“Our concern is 57 positions that would be lost if they’re not funded another way,” Estes said. “And what those 57 positions do, they’re very involved, of course, in prosecuting DUIs and vehicular homicides.”
Moreover, Estes said, the money also helps train sheriffs, police departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other enforcement agencies to combat DUI and impaired driving.
“Tennessee’s DUI deaths on the highways have gone down greatly since these programs have been in place,” said Estes, who called them “very crucial” to that success.
…Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, a former prosecutor, said the $18 million, including the $6.5 million that now goes to prosecutors, needs to be replaced.
“If we can take $18 million out of the general fund and allocate that towards safety, specifically toward 57 positions in the district attorneys’ offices, officer overtime, roadblocks and advertising to combat intoxicated driving, I think that’s a great solution,” Lamberth said.
Haslam said “not having the open container law has meant that the federal government’s telling us how we can spend that $18 million.”
“I think we should choose how we spend that and then to decide do we want to fund DUI, DAs another way,” the governor said. “But in the meantime, money that should be going to roads should be going to roads.”
Ken Whitehouse, a past political operative and reporter, has resigned his position as spokesman for Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk after being criticized by Nashville’s police chief for releasing a police report on a pending rape investigation.
A letter released by the prosecutor’s office and signed by Whitehouse says the spokesman resigned because he “violated user agreements between this office and other law enforcement agencies regarding access to data. I seriously regret the incident that occurred on December 16, 2016.”
On that day, according to a public memo from Police Chief Steve Anderson, Whitehouse logged in to the police department’s internal records system and released a report, which identified the name of a suspect and victim in a pending rape case reported at Bridgestone Arena, to WSMV Channel 4.
Anderson suggested Whitehouse should be fired, and assured the public his staff would never release the name of a sexual assault victim. Such information is public record, but law enforcement agencies often do not release it, citing their efforts to shield victims from repercussions for coming forward. WSMV responded to the chief, noting the information was public and the victim spoke willingly to the television station’s reporter.
Further, from WSMV: