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arm of the government is outstretched to bring under its power the business, the life and the happiness of the individual, there are those who are impatient at what is being done and in their mad haste to reform the world by legislation would take the bridles off the law-makers and give them free rein to enact any law which their wisdom or foolishness, their patriotism or selfishness, their judgment or caprice might dictate, the Constitution and Bill of Rights to the contrary notwithstanding.
We cannot stop the drift to paternalism and to centralize power any more than we can stop the flow of the mighty river which DeSoto beheld from our own bluffs. Nor would we stop it if we could, but, as with the great Mississippi when within its banks waters this valley and makes it the garden of the world, when it overflows them, it brings death and destruction, even so with the flow of the law towards paternalism. It must be confined between the banks of the Constitution, for if left to the unrestrained and unbridled will of the legislatures it will destroy the very government it should serve, and sink the people it should uplift. What a terrible death being governed to death would be!
How is it in Tennessee? Turning to the last biennial session of the General Assembly, we find that so far it has enacted a bill for compulsory education, one extending the powers of the workshop and factory inspector, one creating a board of public accountants, one creating a board to collect vital statistics, one requiring employers to provide seats for employes, an act authorizing a commission to report to the next General Assembly a workmen's compensation act, and a bill for funding the State debt.
In the above enumeration I did not call attention to an act creating a banking department of the State of Tennessee, which bill was endorsed by and introduced at the instance of the Tennessee Bankers' Association, the purpose of which is to provide greater security for depositors in all banks organized under the State. It is a matter of tribute to the Tennessee Bankers' Association that at their instance the Tennessee legislature declared by implication at least, that free banking is a public danger, and inspection and regulation are necessary safeguards to be thrown by the State around those who engage therein.
These bills show that Tennessee is abreast with the present thought, and that once where the doctrine of non-interference was highly prized, paternalism is being enthroned.
It has long been recognized as the duty of the State to provide for the education of children. This has become in these United States a well-established and thoroughly admitted governmental function. The State owes the children residing within its borders the duty of providing for their training, so that when they grow up they will make good citizens of the commonwealth, appreciate our institutions and be equipped to discharge the duties which such citizenship imposes. We say, and correctly, I think, that the perpetuity of our liberties is dependent upon an educated and enlightened citizenship. The last session of our General Assembly increased the appropriations for public school purposes from twenty-five percentum to thirty-three and a third percentum of the gross revenues of the State. I shall make no argument, for none is needed, to support the appropriation of the one-third of the total gross revenue for educational purposes. I call attention to this act as indicative of the liberal policy of this State toward education, which will commend itself to every thoughtful citizen who regards citizenship in a republic where the citizen is the soverign as a trust to be enjoyed by himself and be transmitted to a posterity better equipped to discharge the duties attendant upon such citizenship than those of his generation.
Not only is it desirable for the State to provide for their education of the children within its borders, but the State now claims the right to enforce their education. If illiteracy is bad and education good for the State, then its duty is to eradicate the former by the latter. Hence, I direct your attention to chapter nine of the Public Acts of 1913, entitled, “An act to regulate and require the attendance of school children upon schools in the State of Tennessee, and to provide means for the enforcement of this act,” effective February 19, 1913, and known as the Compulsory Education Bill. In brief, this act requires every parent, guardian or other person in the State having charge or control of any child between the years of eight and fourteen, inclusive, to cause such child to be enrolled in and attend some day school, public, private or parochial, for eighty consecutive days, or when the school term is less than eighty days in length, for the full term in each year in the county or city in which said child may reside, with a provision that in cities maintaining a separate school system which have a scholastic population of five thousand or over by the State school census of 1912, or any subsequent State census, any parent, guardian or other person having charge or control of any child between the ages of eight and fourteen, inclusive, shall cause such child to attend school for the full school term, also providing that any child between the ages of fourteen and sixteen not actively and regularly engaged in some useful employment or service, who is unable to read or write, shall be caused to attend school for the time above stated..
The law authorizes proper officers to enforce the provisions of this act and penalties to be inflicted for its disregard. It excuses that parent, guardian or other person having charge of a child who is not able through extreme destitution to provide proper clothing, and likewise exempts a child that is mentally or physically incapacitated from attending school for the whole period, or where the school to which said child belongs is more than two miles by the nearest traveled road from the place of residence of the child and public transportation to and from the school is not provided, or where the child has completed an elementary school course including eight grades.
Provision is made for the county and city board of education to purchase books out of the general school fund of the city or county and lend the same to a child whose parents are unable to purchase the same, under such regulations as may be prescribed by the said board of education. And where, on account of lack of clothes or food, any child is unable to attend school as provided by the act, it is made the duty of the city or county board of education to report that fact to any suitable relief agency of the county or city, and if there be none, then to the proper commissioners of the poor, “for investigation and relief.”
This act is but the beginning of a more comprehensive law upon this subject, for it will be a necessary step for some subsequent legislature to take, to provide the necessary clothing and food for the children of the poor when attending school, and without such one of the main purposes of the act, the education of the children of the destitute and the unfortunate, cannot be had. It will not do to expect such from the philanthropy of individuals, however common that may become.
Chapter eight of the Public Acts of 1913 is entitled, “An act to provide for the indeterminate sentence of persons convicted of crime and to authorize and regulate the paroling of prisoners so sentenced.” This is known as the Prison Parole Act, and evidences that to which I have already referred, to-wit, the awakened conscience of the people, which manifests itself in those laws which have for their object the alleviation of the suffering and misery of the unfortunate, even the criminal.
The provisions of this act, in brief, are that in future no person over the age of eighteen, when convicted of any felony or other crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, shall be sentenced to a definite term of imprisonment, but shall be sentenced for an indefinite period, but not to exceed the maximum, nor to be less than the minimum term provided by law for the crime for which the person was convicted and sentenced.
The act authorizes the Board of Prison Commissioners, who are constituted the Board of Parole, to release on parole any person sentenced as above stated, who has served the minimum term provided by law for the offense committed by him, less good time, and in considering the application for parole or recommendation for final release, the Board shall not entertain any petition or hear any argument “from any attorney or other person not connected with the penitentiary in favor of or against the parole or release of any prisoner," but shall institute inquiries by correspondence, by taking testimony, or otherwise, as to the history, physical or mental condition or character, of such prisoner, including, I take it, his conduct while in prison.
I trust there will be no member of this Association who will object to the provision which excludes “any attorney * * * not connected with the penitentiary” from presenting a petition or making an argument in favor of the parole of such prisoner. It does not appear to me to be an “arbitrary and capricious classification” to confine that practice to those members of the bar connected with the penitentiary, even though it would give to a few a monopoly of that practice.
This act provides that when a person on parole has kept the conditions thereof in such manner and for such period of time as shall satisfy the Board that he is reliable and trustworthy and that he will probably remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society, that the Board may recommend to the Governor that he grant to such prisoner his final discharge, and such certificate of final discharge shall be admissible as evidence in any proceeding in which such prisoner seeks restoration to the rights and privileges of citizenship.
This act in no way seeks to disturb the pardoning power of the Governor or the duties of the Advisory Board of Pardons.
This act is a step in the right direction. It is hoped that it will cure the abuses of the pardoning power of the Governor, which have had their defenders, because of the failure in this State to provide for a system of parole. But above this it is a wise, a humane and a just law, for it opens the door for opportunity to the unfortunate and provides how, at some sunrise, his soul may be born anew.
But probably that law which is of more general interest and more directly affects every citizen of the State than any other which was enacted by this legislature, is the bill entitled, “An act to remove the disability of coverture from married women,” which is effective from and after January 1, 1914. I find from a comparison of this bill with Section 2517 of the Code of Mississippi of 1906, that it is a copy of that statute, except for some reason which does not clearly appear, a married woman in Tennessee, even after the old year of 1913, with the old order that obtained at common law, that so far as property was concerned, the husband and wife are one, and the husband that one, shall have been rung out and the new year and new order rung in, she will be powerless to dispose of her property “in expectancy,” whereas her sisters of the unmarried state and likewise of the State of Mississippi, have that power. In a recent case the Supreme Court of Tennessee denied the right of a married woman to convey her interest in expectancy, either in inheritance or in a contingent remainder (Taylor v. Swafford, 122 Tenn. 303), and the legislature decided to keep her in this bondage.