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Mental Health, School Safety Bills Passed in Special Session

Information is provided by the office of 28th District State Rep. Joey Hensley, MD, R-Hohenwald, who represents Giles, Lewis, Marshall, Maury and part of Williamson counties.

The 113th General Assembly has concluded Gov. Bill Lee’s extraordinary session on public safety and accomplished the business he called on the General Assembly to address.

In the special session, the legislature continued to prioritize investments in mental health and school safety and approved most of the governor’s legislative package.

Laws passed aim to enhance public safety by encouraging responsible gun ownership, speeding the background check process for purchasing firearms and addressing human trafficking.

More than 100 additional bills were filed for the special session.

Given the volume and complexity of this additional legislation, lawmakers agreed issues outside the governor’s legislative package would be more appropriately addressed in the regular session in January to provide more time for stakeholder input and public testimony.

Many lawmakers have committed to continue the important conversations and legislative work prompted by the special session.

Investing in school security and mental health

In the special session, lawmakers invested over $100 million in school security and mental health.

The General Assembly continued efforts to enhance school security by investing an additional $10 million in grants for School Resource Officers (SRO) and School Safety Officers (SSO). Following the Covenant School attack in March 2023, the General Assembly passed comprehensive measures to strengthen security at public and private schools across Tennessee. Lawmakers invested $223 million to improve school safety, including $140 million to put a School Resource Officer in every public school.

Other investments made during the special session to enhance public safety and strengthen mental health include:

• $30 million for campus security upgrades at public higher education institutions.

• $50 million for grants to licensed community mental health agencies to improve mental health services.

• $4 million for the Behavioral Health Safety Net which provides mental health services to low-income, uninsured Tennesseans.

• $12 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) to provide sign on and retention bonuses to prospective and current behavioral health professionals.

• $3 million to TDMHSAS to provide a behavioral health scholarship program.

Encouraging responsible gun ownership

As part of the governor’s legislative package, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 7085 to encourage safe storage of firearms to prevent thefts and accidents.

The legislation eliminates the sales tax on firearm safes and safety devices to reduce financial barriers for practicing safe storage. It also creates a public awareness campaign to promote firearm safety and responsible gun ownership.

Speeding up reporting of criminal and mental health history to the TBI

To speed the background check process for purchasing firearms, the General Assembly approved Senate Bill 7086, which codifies Gov. Lee’s Executive Order 100, issued April 11 to enhance protective procedures for the purchase of firearms.

The legislation expedites reporting of criminal history and court mental health information which is reviewed as part of the background check required to purchase firearms.

The bill changes the reporting requirement for court clerks to report criminal and mental health history to the TBI’s Tennessee Instant Check System (TICS) from 30 days to 72 hours. TICS keeps track of those convicted of felonies, adjudicated as mentally defective or involuntarily committed. The system has worked well since the rules went into effect.

Fighting human trafficking

To aid the General Assembly’s continued fight against human trafficking, the Senate approved Senate Bill 7088 which requires the TBI to issue an annual report on efforts to fight human trafficking.

The first report is due Dec. 1, 2023 and will be provided to the Governor and the Senate and House speakers.

These reports will be an important tool for the General Assembly when contemplating further legislation to combat child and human trafficking in our state.

For over a decade Tennessee has been a leader in recognition and identification of victims of human trafficking.

In 2013, the TBI issued a comprehensive report on statistics and issues facing human trafficking throughout our state.

Since 2011, the General Assembly has passed several bills to crack down on human trafficking throughout the state and protect victims.

Sen. Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, Tenn., 37243, or by calling 615-741-3100 or calling toll free 1-800-449-8366, extension 13100. or faxing 615-253-0231.

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, Tenn., 38462. His telephone number is 931-796-2018, his cell phone is 931-2`12-8823 or e-mall:

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