Mental health funding, TennCare coverage waiver are special session priorities

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

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The Center Square

When a special session on public safety begins Aug. 21, Gov. Bill Lee will call for increased spending to help grow and retain mental health professionals in the state along with requesting matching federal funds for Medicaid to cover mental health and substance use disorders.

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That, along with accurate reporting and sharing of criminal records and felonies were mentioned in an overview of the legislative special session call. But a red flag law that is included in the potential scope of the special session was not part of Lee’s legislative and budget priorities for the session.

That temporary mental health order of protection proposal received blowback from many of Lee’s Republican colleagues and interest groups.

“As our nation faces evolving public safety threats, Tennessee remains vigilant and is taking continued action to protect communities while preserving the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Lee said in a statement. “In the months leading up to the public safety special session, we have listened to Tennesseans and worked with members of the General Assembly to identify thoughtful, practical measures to strengthen public safety across our state, including steps to support law enforcement, address mental health, prevent violent crime and stop human trafficking.”

Members of the Covenant Families Action Fund, made up of members of Nashville’s Covenant School community where six were shot and killed in a school shooting earlier this year, commended some of Lee’s announced plan.

“Covenant Families Action Fund applauds the focus on mental health, but believes that fully funding mental health professionals and improving the usability of the system for youth and their families must remain the top priority,” the group said in a statement. “The call includes the possibility for the secure storage of firearms. Provided that there is training and flexibility on enforcement, this could be a crucial step on firearm reform.

The group said it also supports strengthening the state’s background check system and hopes that the red flag law that Lee previously proposed would be fully considered.

Tennessee’s Democratic leaders spoke out against the call, saying it doesn’t go far enough on proposing gun control legislation.

Lee’s proclamation closes door on much gun-safety legislation, but it opens door wide open to a wide range of harmful bills on issues no one asked for or wants, says Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.

Lee’s seven listed priorities were:

• Codification of a 72-hour crime record reporting law that began as an emergency order.

• A TennCare mental health coverage waiver for federal matching funds.

• Funding programs to promote and retain mental health professionals.

• Expanding access to mental health care..

• Collecting DNA from felons at time of arrest.

• Directing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to create a detailed human trafficking report.

• Promoting safe storage of firearms in the state.

The Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition, meanwhile, commended Lee for making human trafficking a priority in the call.

“Gov. Lee and his staff could not have been truer to their word and have included in both the call and list of administration legislative priorities an important step in our mutual quest to eradicate child and human trafficking,” the group wrote in a statement. “We very much appreciate Gov. Lee’s efforts in the areas of child and human trafficking, and we look forward to continuing to working with him in the future to stop this scourge.”