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The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 1834, which would authorize the death penalty as punishment for the rape of a child. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson, would apply to various forms of child rape. During the meeting, Democratic Sen. London Lamar proposed an amendment that would require mental health counseling for the child throughout the legal process, arguing that the pressure of potentially sentencing someone to death could prevent children from speaking up about the abuse they endured. However, this amendment was met with opposition from other committee members.

Senator Yager, the bill’s sponsor, strongly disagreed with Lamar’s proposed amendment, stating that the mental health of the child is most affected at the time of the rape, not during the trial. Despite Lamar’s concerns about the potential impact on victims, the District Attorney’s office, lawyers, and child advocates testified in favor of the bill. District Attorney General Stephen Crump argued that the bill would not put the burden of executing the rapist on the child victim, but rather on the perpetrator. In response, Lamar expressed her belief that the bill could lead to situations where children are forced to kill someone close to them.

After a lengthy debate and testimony, Lamar motioned to send the bill to summer study for further research and consideration. However, the committee ultimately voted against this motion and proceeded to vote on the bill itself. In their final statements, Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts and Committee Chairman Todd Gardenhire clarified that a vote against the bill did not signify opposition to the death penalty for rape cases, but rather concerns about the specifics of the bill. Despite the divided opinions, the bill passed with five members in favor and four opposed, moving it to the Senate Calendar Committee for further review.

Tennessee currently allows capital punishment and is among the 27 states that have the death penalty. However, the state does not currently allow for capital punishment in non-homicide cases. Only seven other states permit the death penalty for certain child rape offenses. The passing of SB1834 would expand the scope of cases in which the death penalty could be applied in Tennessee, specifically for child rape crimes. The contentious debate and vote on this bill reflect the complex and sensitive nature of seeking justice for child victims of sexual abuse, while also considering the implications and moral implications of using the death penalty as a form of punishment.

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