Bill Makes Knox a ‘Pilot Project’ for Mental Health Outpatient Treatment

The state will pay for a “pilot project” to put ten persons suffering from “mental illness or severe emotional disturbance” into outpatient treatment instead of a psychiatric hospital under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate.
The mental health pilot project was launched as an amendment to SB420, sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Ryan Haynes, both Knoxville Republicans. It follows negotiations with the state Department of Mental Health, the Helen Ross McNabb Center and others.
The measure sets up a program wherein individuals suffering mental illness and perhaps charged with a minor crime would undergo evaluation and, if need a likely candidate, go before a judge who would send them into “intensive outpatient treatment” instead an institution.
The state will provide $125,000 per year for the two-year pilot project, using money that is part of a $6.6 million shift in funding from the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, which is closing under Haslam’s budget plan.
“I wish we were doing this statewide,” said Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, in brief Senate floor debate. He predicted the program will be successful in Knox County and eventually expanded statewide.
Overbey said he and former Sen. Tim Burchett, now Knox County mayor, began pushing similar legislation six years ago without success, mostly due to a lack of state funding. He said 46 other states already have “some form of assisted outpatient treatment.”
The bill passed the House unanimously. It is on schedule to pass the House next week.

The bill intended to strengthen enforcement of beer and liquor licensing laws has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate for three weeks as lawmakers debated what counties should be included in the pilot project.
The final version of HB3633 includes Knox, Hamilton, Cocke, Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union. With the House signing off on the latest Senate changes, the bill now goes to the governor.
The bill makes several changes in laws governing local beer boards, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with beer sales, and the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with the sale of liquor and wine. The changes take effect on July 1 in the pilot project counties only and will continue for two years.
In general, the idea is to make the two agencies coordinate their efforts, said House sponsor Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. In the past, a local beer board has occasionally suspended the license of an establishment violations, but the business – typically a bar — remained open because the ABC license remained – or vice versa.
Examples of other changes include provisions intended to block the practice of a bar operator closing after being charged with law violations, then having the establishment reopen immediately in the same location under a new name or new ownership; and a ban on operators charged with breaking the law voluntarily surrendering their license – a move that allows them to later receive a new license with no violation on their record.
The Senate approved 29-0 Wednesday the “Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act,” which declares students will suffer no penalties for expression their religious views in doing their homework or participating in other school activities.
During floor debate, sponsor Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, was questioned on whether the measure would “blur the line between church and state.”
“Isn’t this trying to make our public schools more like Sunday schools?” asked Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.
Roberts said that was not the case. To illustrate a situation where the bill would apply, he cited a student assigned to write an essay on “the decline of America” choosing to address religious decline rather than economic or military decline, then writing about Israel of Biblical times faltering as it “moved away from God.”
The law would assure the youth was grade on the basis of writing, punctuation and such without regard to the religious subject matter.
That inspired Massey to recall that, as a student, she once wrote an English term paper “on the humanity of Jesus.”
The bill (SB3632) awaits a House floor vote.

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