Governor Bill Lee declined to sign new legislation passed by the General Assembly that impacts the amount of prison time served by convicted criminals, allowing the measure to go into law without his signature.

The bill, known as “truth in sentencing” legislation, mandates that individuals convicted of certain violent crimes serve their entire sentence behind bars.

Furthermore, another subset of offenders would be required to serve 85 percent of their sentence, if convicted of various crimes outlined in the law.

Lee argued that data did not support the new measures created in the provision, according to a letter obtained by The Tennessee Journal.

However, legislative leaders shot back at the governor over his characterization of the law that overwhelmingly passed both chambers.

“You can protect criminals, or you can protect victims. I stand with victims, as do members of law enforcement, our district attorneys, & criminal judges across Tennessee,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“In 2020, the U.S. Sentencing Commission published a study stating stronger sentencing has a statistically significant deterrent effect by reducing crime & lowering recidivism. That’s why Tennessee’s law enforcement community stood behind us & supported this legislation.”

In an emailed statement, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally argued the legislation would boost public safety:

“Truth in Sentencing is vital legislation that not only offers justice and transparency to victims but also acts as a critical deterrent against violent offenders. The costs associated with the legislation are well worth the peace of mind offered to victims and the overall boost to public safety. While I disagree with Governor Lee’s critique of the bill, I appreciate his willingness to work with Speaker Sexton and I to get the bill in a posture to avoid a veto. I am grateful this bill is now the law of the land in Tennessee.”

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Cooper Moran is a reporter for The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]