Thursday, August 10, 2023

Gov. Lee Issues Official Call, Presents Legislative Priorities Ahead of Public Safety Special Session

by Rod Williams, Aug. 9, 2023- Yesterday, Govenor Bill Lee issued an official proclamation calling the legislature into a special session to address gun violence and public safety. This a response to the Covenant School mass shooting. While the press release, which I have posted below, does not specify that the legislature is to consider Lee's proposal for what is commonly called a "red-flag law," and which Lee is calling an enhanced "order of protection," the proclamation does list that as one of the things the legislature to "consider and act upon.''  This is the portion of the proclamation addressing this:

(12) Temporary mental health orders of protection, which must be initiated by law 
enforcement, must require a due process hearing, must require the respondent to undergo an assessment for suicidal or homicidal ideation, must require law enforcement to prove its case by clear and convincing evidence, must require that an order of protection be reevaluated at least every one-hundred eighty (180) days, and must not permit ex parte orders;  

Not being a lawyer myself, I had to look up "ex parte." An ex parte order is issued by the court without giving the respondent notice or an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story. So, the proclamation would prohibit passing a law with the use of an ex parte order. 

The proposed enhanced order of protection has been one of the most controversial parts of Gov. Lee's proposals. This has been one of the proposals that gun rights groups have made a major issue and are using to fund-raise and convince people their second amendment are at risk. 

I would hope the legislature would consider and pass such a law allowing the temporary confiscation of weapons from people deemed dangerous provided there is speedy hearing to justify the confiscation and quickly return the weapons if the taking was not justified, and if there is punishment for people who maliciously use the law to harass someone. I can see angry people going through a contentious divorce using this law for harassment of a spouse the same way they now almost routinely use an order of protections. 

I am disappointed to see the proclamation takes off the table a law to require people to properly store their weapons when left in their cars. We are on course to have 1300 guns stolen from cars this year here in Nashville.  Every year over a thousand guns get into the hands of criminals in Nashville because gun owners leave unsecured guns in their cars. Innocent people are being killed because law-abiding gun owner are irresponsible. I think any gun stored in a car should have to be stored in a car gun safe.

I hear the argument of those who say they should be able to leave their gun in their car where someone could steal it and should not be responsible for their own reckless behavior.  They say we should punish the thief, not the victim of theft. I understand that in the abstract that makes sense, but I am not persuaded by that argument. We have a problem. If gun owners will not be responsible, we must make them be responsible. 

I am concerned with stigmatizing people with mental health issues. If taking anti-anxiety meds is deemed justification for law enforcement taking someone's weapon, then some people who need medication will not seek it.  I see the downside, however if it prevents the next Covenant school shooting it is worth it. 

I question the storing of DNA of people who are only arrested but not convicted of a crime. We do that now with fingerprinting and I see the civil liberties implications of doing both but think that on balance we need these tools to fight crime. 

Most serious issues have two sides, and one must soberly consider the options. I have reached the conclusion that despite the arguments on the other side, we must address the issue of gun violence. We need to try to prevent the next mass shooting.  

Nothing in this proclamation would suggest that what is under consideration is an infringement on one's Second Amendment rights. Some gun rights advocates see any regulation of guns such as laws prohibiting certain weapons, or requirements for background checks or restrictions on where one may carry a gun as a second amendment infringement. Laws banning sawed off shotguns and banning one from carrying guns into a court room do not infringe on your Second Amendment rights. These laws no more infringe on Second Amendment rights than do laws preventing crying "fire" in a crowded theater infringe on First Amendment rights. 

Many Republican law makers did not even want to have a special session to address gun violence. I am disappointed in them. I am disappointed in the county Republican Parties across the state that have passed resolution opposing the special session. I hope the legislature will act responsibly and consider the modest proposals called for by the proclamation. 

Press release from the Governor's Office:
NASHVILLE, Tenn., August 08, 2023   – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued the special session proclamation and presented the administration’s legislative and budget priorities that will go before the Tennessee General Assembly during the special session on public safety, convening August 21.

“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,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “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. I thank the General Assembly for its continued partnership and look forward to achieving meaningful results for Tennesseans.”

Gov. Lee will present legislative and budget priorities during the public safety special session to keep Tennessee communities safe, support law enforcement and address mental health, all while preserving constitutional rights. In addition to bringing the following solutions in the administration package, the Governor will continue to work with members of the General Assembly on other legislation specified in the call.

1.     Codification of EO 100 and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Report Implementation: Requires reporting of accurate, complete and timely records from court clerks to the TBI within 72-hours and requires electronic submissions of dispositions and expungements to the TBI.

2.     TennCare Mental Health Coverage Waiver: Directs TennCare to seek a waiver from the federal government to allow federal matching funds for Medicaid to cover services for mental illness and substance use disorders at institutions of mental diseases.

3.     Addressing Mental Health Workforce Challenges: Budget initiatives that prioritize opportunities to grow and retain mental health professionals in the state.

4.     Reforms for Mental Health: Expands access to mental health treatment by eliminating certain collaborative practice requirements for Advanced Registered Practice Nurses with psychiatric training.

5.    Strengthening the Identification of Individuals Arrested for Felonies: Provides for the collection of DNA at the time of an arrest for all felonies.

6.     Human Trafficking Report: Resolution directing TBI to report on the state of human trafficking in Tennessee.

7.     Promoting Safe Storage: Eliminates taxes on firearm safes and safety devices, provides free gun locks, expands safe storage training in state-approved safety courses, and creates a public service announcement to promote safe storage

To date, more than 20,000 Tennesseans have submitted public comments on strengthening public safety, and the form will remain open through the entirety of the special session to ensure that Tennesseans can continue engaging in the conversation.

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