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House takes action to bolster public safety, mental health care, and support for victims of crime

NASHVILLE, TENN. – The Tennessee House of Representatives today concluded its regular calendar for the 66th Extraordinary Special Session passing a slate of bills strengthening public safety, increasing access to mental health care and supporting victims of violent crime. This legislative package concurrently safeguards the civil liberties of law-abiding Tennesseans.

“We have been meeting with stakeholders across our state over the last several months on solutions that continue addressing Tennessee’s mental health crisis, juvenile crime, and public safety,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “We have many great ideas that will provide immediate relief to our citizens and their families and improve overall outcomes without infringing on constitutional rights, liberties, and freedoms. We hope the Senate will join us to address the mental health and juvenile crime crisis facing our state, communities, and families.”

House members worked dutifully through the past week, meeting with constituents, debating legislation and considering testimony from citizens on various issues.

“I am tremendously proud of the work the House of Representatives put in for this special session.  Our members are wholly committed to putting forth the very best solutions that will improve mental health outcomes and make citizens safer as they go about their daily lives,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “We have preserved constitutional rights while taking a huge leap forward for a safer, healthier Tennessee.   I am hopeful our Senate partners will join us in those efforts.”

More than 100 bills were introduced for the special session called by Gov. Bill Lee beginning Aug. 21.

“The House of Representatives chose to rise to the occasion when the governor exercised his constitutional powers by calling an Extraordinary Session,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “These ideas represent months of meeting with constituents, public safety experts, mental health professionals as well as other vital stakeholders.  When we work together, we serve as a model for the rest of the nation because we accomplish great things.”

Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Cochran, R-Englewood said, “House Republicans have worked diligently to find meaningful solutions that better protect our communities while also preserving our constitutional rights. This legislation will expand valuable mental health services for those in need while also holding criminals more accountable for their actions. I am extremely proud of the work that we have been able to accomplish during this special session to make Tennessee a safer place for everyone.”

The House approved an amended budget for the 2023-24 with new appropriations including:

  1. $1.6 million recurring loss of revenue to permanently remove sales tax on gun safes and locking devices through House Bill 7012
  2. $4 million to provide additional behavioral health care services to people who are uninsured and not eligible for TennCare
  3. $10 million for additional school safety grants
  4. $30 million for higher education safety grants
  5. $50 million to fund provider rate bonuses for mental health care providers

Legislation passed by the House includes:

House Bill 7002: Requires all public and private Tennessee schools to modernize communications dealing with emergency preparedness. The bill requires schools to develop safety response procedures that distinguish whether an emergency is a fire, inclement weather, or an active shooter situation. Teachers, students, staff and district employees must be made aware and trained to respond accordingly to a potential threat.

House Bill 7003: Strengthens existing legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2021 that allowed victims of violent crime to petition a court for a lifetime order of protection. House Bill 7003 extends lifetime protection for victims of aggravated stalking. The law prohibits convicted offenders from communicating with their victims for life.  

House Bill 7004: Requires courts to notify local law enforcement agencies when an individual is released from court-ordered emergency evaluation, treatment or care. The bill improves communication with agencies responsible for transporting individuals to a treatment facility following a judge’s determination that the person was a risk to themselves or others. 

House Bill 7006: Authorizes the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to direct available state funds to expand available inpatient psychiatric services for uninsured individuals.

House Bill 7007: Specifies that reports of county medical examiners and autopsies of minors who are homicide victims are not public documents. The bill allows the reports to be released if the minor’s parent or legal guardian consents to their release, and they are not a suspect in the case. A court can also allow for their release in certain circumstances. 

House Bill 7008: Requires mental health professionals and behavior analysts to inform either the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse or local law enforcement if a patient has threatened violence against a group of people such as school or daycare students, individuals at a place of worship or a person’s family, among others. The legislation also includes protections from civil, criminal and disciplinary penalties for those who make reasonable attempts to comply with the law.

House Bill 7012: Exempts all firearm safes and safety devices from state and local sales taxes beginning Nov. 1. The bill also requires the Department of Safety (DOS) to provide free firearm locks to Tennesseans upon request. A public safety campaign dedicated to safe firearms storage will also be created. All DOS-approved firearm safety courses must also include instruction on the safe storage of firearms beginning Oct. 1.

House Bill 7013: Requires circuit, general sessions and municipal court clerks to notify the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within 72 hours of the final disposition of criminal proceedings against an individual. Currently, the information must be sent within 30 days.

House Bill 7023: Allows law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in a school district to assign at least one law enforcement officer to a school without a formal agreement with the board of education. The agency must inform the school district of the officer’s assignment as well as various other policies and procedures that are to be followed.

House Bill 7027: Requires the state to pay of a court-ordered mental health evaluation and treatment for criminal defendants who have been charged with a misdemeanor and are believed to either be incompetent to stand trial or there is a question about mental capacity at the time of the offense. 

House Bill 7032: Requires health benefit plans, including those offered by TennCare, to provide mental health coverage and reimbursement to the same extent as those offered for the treatment of alcoholism and drug dependence.

House Bill 7034: Enhances the penalties for stalking, aggravated stalking and violating an order of protection or restraining order when based on conduct that constitutes stalking. The bill also includes mental health evaluation and treatment requirements in certain circumstances.

House Bill 7038Establishes a grant program to safety alert systems in public schools. The bill would provide nonrecurring funds to assist local school districts and public charter schools with the installation of rapid response emergency devices. The systems can pinpoint the exact locations of an emergency and directly notify law enforcement and first responders in situations such as a medical emergency, unauthorized intruder, or other crisis.

House Bill 7041: Requires the TBI to submit an annual report on child and human trafficking crimes and trends in this state, as well as current programs and activities of the bureau’s human trafficking unit, to the governor, the speaker of the House, and the speaker of the Senate.

House Bill 7063: Authorizes local education agencies and public charter schools to employ retired law enforcement officers or honorably discharged veterans to serve as school resource officers.

House Bill 7070: Makes appropriations for the payment of any lawful expenses of the first extraordinary session of the 113th General Assembly.

House Bill 7071: Requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to submit an annual report on the number of mass shootings that occur in the state to the governor, the speaker of the and the speaker of the Senate.

House Bill 7072: Directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a centralized system of case management, document management, electronic case filing, electronic payment methods, data reporting, and any other capability deemed necessary for collection and reporting of all state and local court public case-level data.

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