Lawmakers approve $111 million for mental health, public safety
Republicans permanently remove tax from gun safes and storage devices
The House of Representatives concluded the 66th Extraordinary Session of the General Assembly on Tuesday, approving a $111 million budget appropriation to incentivize the safe storage of firearms, support public safety and increase access to mental health care.
Prior to the special session called by Gov. Bill Lee, House Republicans worked through the summer to identify several practical solutions to support law enforcement and public safety, decrease juvenile crime, and help vulnerable citizens in crisis. House members filed more than 114 pieces of legislation dealing with the scope of the governor’s call prior to the special session.
House Republicans worked diligently through the eight-day session, meeting with constituents, debating legislation and considering testimony from citizens on various issues. House Republicans successfully defeated a proposed red flag bill up for consideration in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. In all, the House chamber approved 20 bills, all of which preserved the civil liberties of law-abiding Tennesseans.
This work builds on Republicans’ continued efforts to lead the nation in public safety. Earlier this year, Republicans strengthened school security by including $232 million in the budget to provide a school resource officer (SRO) at every Tennessee public school, boost physical security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans. Since 2018, the General Assembly has invested approximately $750 million in safer schools.
Only three bills, along with a budget amendment for $111 million, passed in both chambers and now head to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The appropriations bill approved by the full General Assembly will significantly bolster safety at Tennessee’s institutes of higher education by providing $30 million for safety grants. It will provide an additional $10 million for school safety grants to cover public charter schools within local school districts that do not have a full-time SRO for the upcoming school year.
To support mental health, lawmakers approved $50 million to fund provider reimbursement bonuses for mental health services. It provides another $4 million for additional health care services to people who are uninsured and not eligible for TennCare.
To encourage more highly effective individuals to enter the mental health care field, more than $12 million will be directed toward the recruitment and retention of current and prospective mental health care professionals in Tennessee. Lawmakers also allocated an additional $3 million to a Public Behavioral Health Scholarship Program. This scholarship will provide tuition stipends to Tennessee residents pursuing a degree in a behavioral health-related field.
House Republican leaders on Tuesday said while they weren’t in agreement with the Senate on all bills, the General Assembly made progress by taking immediate steps that will provide funding for mental health resources and safety.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted to, but we are going to work every day now until the start of our regular session to try to make Tennessee a safer place to live,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland.
Only three of those bills, along with a budget amendment for $111 million passed in both chambers and now head to the governor’s desk for his signature. Appropriations include:
- $50 million to mental health care provider bonuses
- $30 million for higher education safety grants
- $10 million to the Tennessee Department of Education for the purpose of offering school safety grants
- $12.1 million for current and prospective mental health professionals’ recruitment and retention
- $3 million to a Public Behavioral Health Scholarship Program
- $4 million for the Behavioral Safety Net Program to be used for mental health services.
- $1.6 million reduction in sales tax from permanent elimination of tax on gun safety devices
- $1.1 million to promote safe storage of firearms
Legislation increases firearm safety through tax cuts, expands free gun lock program
The Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation encouraging the safe storage of firearms by permanently removing taxes on safes and locking devices beginning Nov. 1.
House Bill 7012, co-sponsored by State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, also expands and streamlines a state program that provides free gun safety devices to the public.
“As adults and responsible citizens, when we have something in our homes such as a firearm we [must] do everything we can to make sure that it is stored safely,” White said. “If you have a gun, lock it up when it’s not in your possession.”
Additionally, the legislation requires all state-approved handgun safety courses to include instruction regarding safe storage. It will also create a robust public service announcement campaign aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of minors and criminals.
A recent Tennessee Department of Health report found that 5 percent of child firearm deaths in 2021 were accidental while 24 percent were suicides. House Bill 7012 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.
TBI to report human trafficking crimes, trends annually
Republicans continue to fight against child and human trafficking in Tennessee. Lawmakers approved House Bill 7041whichrequires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to publish an annual report on child and human trafficking crimes and trends in Tennessee. The report must be submitted to the governor and the speakers of the House and Senate by Dec. 1 of each year beginning in 2023.
“We have not done a report like this in about a decade. It is time that we do so,” said bill sponsor and House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “One of the first steps that we can do [to combat human trafficking] is to make sure that we have a report indicating exactly the scope of the problem in Tennessee and where we can focus on it.”
The U.S. Department of State estimates that there are 27.6 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. According to the TBI, it is the second-fastest growing criminal industry just behind drug trafficking.
In recent years, state lawmakers have increased the punishment for multiple crimes related to human trafficking, ensured those convicted of sex trafficking are ineligible for early parole or release, and allowed individuals to use deadly force in self-defense when threatened with “grave sexual abuse” like rape.
Legislation was also passed earlier this year to allow victims of human trafficking to be eligible to receive financial assistance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund for personal injury or loss incurred as a result of the crime. Efforts to improve responses and support services available to victims are also underway.
Last year, Tennessee was ranked by Shared Hope International as the top state in the nation for its efforts to address and prevent the sex trafficking of children and youth. Anyone who suspects an individual may be a victim of human trafficking should call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH (86484). According to the TBI, the hotline received 1,291 tips statewide last year – a 5 percent increase from 2021 and 183 percent more than in 2018. Information and resources about human trafficking in Tennessee can be found online at www.ItHasToStop.com.
Bill streamlines background check information
Background check information will be updated more quickly and efficiently in Tennessee with passage of House Bill 7013.
This legislation now requires criminal history and court-related mental health information to be reported by court clerks to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation or entered into the Tennessee Instant Check System within 72 hours. The information is currently required to be reported within 30 days.
“This coincides with the governor’s Executive Order 100, which was put in place back in [April]” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville. “This will expedite communication between our courts and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in regards to background checks and things like that.”
By requiring electronic submission of the information, House Bill 7013 will ensure the notification process is uniform and delays are eliminated. The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.
State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, was sworn in as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives on Aug. 18 following a special election earlier this month. Hill represents House District 3, which includes Johnson and part of Carter and Sullivan counties. He previously served as a state representative from 2012 until 2020.
The General Assembly reconvenes for the second half of the 113th General Assembly on Jan 9, 2024.