We will almost certainly still see some kind of Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation introduced when Tennessee lawmakers return to Nashville in early January, but any proposal is likely to come from the Democratic minority in the legislature, not allies of Gov. Bill Lee.
Lee had pushed for what he called a temporary mental health order of protection ahead of the special session he called in response to the Covenant School shootings earlier this year, but the idea was roundly panned by the Republican majority. When the special session kicked off in August, Lee’s proposal wasn’t among the topics of discussion, and now he says it won’t be a part of his proposals to lawmakers going forward.
“I’m not looking to bring that bill,” Lee said Monday.
Instead, the governor may propose some of the bills he backed during the special session that didn’t get passed as the House and Senate came to an impasse on the scope of session. The Senate favored taking a narrower path with a focus on discussing other legislation in January. Lee did not cite which bills he might back again.
“I am looking for an opportunity in this next session to continue to work on public safety,” Lee said. “The special session produced a lot of bills that I suspect we’re going to see again in the regular session, to look at ways to provide a safer environment for people in Tennessee.”
I’m glad to see that Lee has conceded to the reality that his version of a “red flag” law wasn’t going anywhere in the legislature, but now the question is what other bills will he support, and will any of them infringe on the right to keep and bear arms as well?
It’s also important to keep in mind that while the Republican majority was squarely opposed to advancing any gun control legislation during the special session, there was still a lot of infighting between the House and Senate leadership on what bills deserved a vote. It looks like that squabbling may continue when the 2024 session gets underway in early January.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, last week blamed the Senate for, in the rush to adjourn, not taking up a bill that he says could have required the suspect charged with firing the bullet that killed Belmont University student Jillian Ludwig to be involuntarily committed.
Shaquille Taylor, who is now facing multiple charges related to Ludwig’s death, was prosecuted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in April, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office confirmed. During his competency hearing, three court-appointed doctors testified that he was incompetent to stand trial, and his case was dismissed. Taylor did not meet the state’s standards for involuntary commitment, and was released from custody.
Sexton’s legislation, House Bill 7036, would have required individuals to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution if they are found to pose an “imminent” likelihood of serious harm. The speaker is working on the bill with Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, and has said that he plans to re-file the legislation in January.
Lt. Gov. McNally, R-Oak Ridge, disagrees with Sexton, saying that no bill that was filed during special session would have saved Ludwig. Their disagreement could signal continued tension between chambers as the legislature moves toward reconvening in January.
With the sizeable GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, I’m not overly concerned about the prospect of a gun control bill getting to Lee’s desk in the next session. What worries me more is that the bickering between House and Senate leadership will prevent a substantive bill addressing involuntary commitments from moving forward. The DA in Nashville has complained that it’s nearly impossible to obtain a commitment, even when someone’s been determined to be incompetent to stand trial, but unless the legislature approves money to add more inpatient mental health beds then a more reasonable standard won’t matter much in practice. If there’s no room to house individuals like Taylor while they’re receiving treatment, they’re going to continue to be returned to the streets despite the clear danger they pose to the community at large.
Tennessee Republicans have a real chance to lead the way nationally on mental health reform in the upcoming session, and I hope they’re able to overcome their bickering and reach a consensus; especially with Democrats in Nashville united in targeting guns and the Tennesseans who lawfully keep and carry them.