Tennessee bill would ban executing people with severe mental illness

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Tennessee electric chair

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Tennessee continues to see an increase in executions, state lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday that would exempt people with severe mental illness from receiving the death penalty.

The proposal still has an uphill battle in Tennessee’s GOP-dominated Statehouse — where Republican lawmakers have previously resisted attempts to limit the death penalty from being imposed.

However, the decision by the House Judiciary Committee to send the bill to the full floor marks the furthest the bill has survived over the past four years it’s been introduced in Tennessee.

If the measure is approved, the death penalty could not be imposed on people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder with psychosis, major depressive disorder with psychosis or delusional disorder.

Individuals would be required to have a “documented medical history” at least one year prior to the slaying in order to be exempt.

Currently, those with intellectual disabilities and minors are exempt from facing the death penalty.

Supporters of the bill argue only a small population actually are diagnosed with a severe mental illness and it will not undermine prosecutors attempting to pursue the death penalty.

Critics, meanwhile, have countered that the bill is unnecessary and urged lawmakers to trust Tennessee’s legal system. They argued that the new exemption could be abused by defense attorneys looking to avoid the death penalty for their clients.

The bill has attracted a handful of Republican and Democratic sponsors in both chambers.

To date, Tennessee has executed seven inmates since resuming the death penalty in August 2018. Four more executions are scheduled for this year.

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