LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton is sharing his thoughts on public safety and mental health legislation, following the fatal shooting of a Belmont student.
The speaker said he believes a change in the law could have prevented the tragedy from happening.
The suspect, Shaquille Taylor, has a lengthy criminal history and was previously found by doctors to be incompetent to stand trial, but he also did not qualify for a mental health facility.
Sexton told News 2 that for the summer’s special session, he was working on an amendment to House Bill 7036, which would have changed requirements to detain someone for mental health issues. He said that bill would have allowed the DA to ask for another evaluation to involuntarily commit Taylor.
Now, Speaker Sexton said he’s working closely with Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk on the involuntary commitment clause. Sexton said he believes there should be state-funded mental health evaluations for people who commit misdemeanors, especially repeat offenders.
“When you talk to DAs, there’s a lot of people who’re being rearrested, a lot of people who a lot of times, they need mental health evaluation,” said Sexton. “[Funk] thinks that will be very helpful to him and to his people and to his assistant DAs, as well as to the people who’re being charged.”
On a broader front, Sexton also suggested increasing mental health reimbursement rates in insurance plans and increasing the number of mental health hospital beds, specifically for juveniles and long-term patients. Right now, Sexton said there are 577 state beds, but he believes they need to add another 2,000 to meet demand.
To do that, Sexton said the state also needs to address the shortage of mental health professionals. He said they’re trying to add tuition reimbursement to attract more people to the field.
Sexton also honed in on the mental health crisis line: 988. He said he’s asked Governor Bill Lee to put more counselors on the line and increase marketing to make the resource more widely known.