Haslam Waiting Until Last Minute To Sign Bill That Could Send Drug-Addicted Moms To Jail

Gov. Bill Haslam chats with law enforcement officers at the Paris fish fry. Credit: TN Photo Service via Flickr

Gov. Bill Haslam chats with law enforcement officers at the Paris fish fry. Credit: TN Photo Service via Flickr

Governor Bill Haslam is waiting until the last possible moment to sign a bill into law that would punish pregnant women on illegal drugs. A spokesperson says to expect a statement Tuesday, which is the deadline for signing or vetoing the legislation. He has 10 business days after he receives a bill from the legislature.

The initial proposal allowed for murder charges if the baby of a drug-addicted mother dies. The final language is much more tame, only allowing a misdemeanor assault charge. And Governor Haslam says he’s okay with what passed. A woman always has the option to get help and avoid jail, even after the baby is born with withdrawal symptoms.

“The mother can get treatment after that point and would not be charged,” Haslam said after the bill passed. “So I think that’s an important point to make about the bill from where it started out.”

Haslam’s legislative liaisons worked with the sponsor to water down the legislation.

Lawmakers have been looking for some way to cut down on the number of babies born dependent on drugs their mother was taking. So-called neonatal abstinence syndrome has been on the rise in Tennessee for several years. However, much of the problem has been fueled by legal use of pain medicine, which isn’t addressed in the bill that passed.

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