By Mike Sparks
Amidst the fast-paced Tennessee General Assembly Special Session, Governor Bill Lee’s Legislative efforts for public safety has sparked both admiration and criticism, as the saying goes, “Critics will be Critics, and Haters are gonna Hate.” Well… I don’t think that quote is original—I just made that up during special session.
Right from the beginning of this special session, the Senate leadership left no room for doubt about their intentions. They were dead-set on a particular plan, and it boiled down to greenlighting only three bills, and those had to hitch a ride alongside the budget. Word on the street is there’s a power struggle within leadership—welcome to the ‘brokeness of government.’ Once again I’m reminded of Ronald Reagan’s quote “The nine most terrifying words in the English launguage are, “I”m from the Government and I’m here to help.”
RELATED: Nashville school shooter fired 152 rounds during the attack, which was planned ‘over a period of months,’ police say
“Critics are going to be critics. Haters are going to be haters,” added Rep. Mike Sparks. “But you know what? We’re moving forward. This is a step in the right direction.” (referring to the gun safe & gun lock legislation)
Just when taxpayers, parents, teachers, mental health advocates thought things couldn’t get any more intriguing, the House Republicans were on an all-out mission to rev up public safety, help put an end to potential school shootings, and boost support for mental health. I was particulary proud of our leadership—especially Leader William Lamberth of Portland who was steadfast in wanting to help with public safety. The house charged ahead with a myriad of bills aimed squarely at addressing these critical issues. I’m reminded once again of the words of Ronald Reagan, “My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose – somehow we win out.”
Everyone agrees (well..I realize there’s a few who are disconnected from reality) that our society faces a mental health crisis, there’s no doubt the discussion for solutions is needed more today than ever. Isn’t it strange that no one seems to be talking about
Here’s a thought-provoking perspective: The Covenant School shooting, every parent’s worst nightmare, marked the deadliest school shooting since the tragic incident in Uvalde, Texas, which claimed the lives of 21 people, including 19 children. It should be universally acknowledged, regardless of political affiliation—Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and others—that there is an urgent need for a constructive discussion on solutions to prevent such heart-wrenching tragedies before they happen. Regrettably, the Senate’s unwillingness to engage in seeking solutions is yet another instance of dysfunction in our government, a practice no successful business would tolerate. That’s why I’ve stated publicly—government is broken!
In May, I witnessed the Senate fumble on our gun safe legislation, House Bill 0342, which aimed to establish a permanent sales tax exemption for gun safes. We hjad p[assed thed legisl;ation for two years in a row—this time we were aimiong for the sales tax to be permanent. I heard that the perplexing reason behind this setback was the mention of the word ‘Guns.’ It’s hard to believe, but this is the reality we face. Once again, this is why I’m willing to publicly say—Government is Broken!
Below are a few pieces of legislation that were introduced during special session:
- House Bill 7002/Senate Bill 7001 — Sponsored by Lamberth and Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, the bill would require public, private, charter, and church-related schools to develop safety response procedures for how students, teachers, and staff should respond when a fire alarm is activated outside of a scheduled fire drill, distinguishing whether the emergency is a fire, inclement weather, or an active shooter situation.
- House Bill 7016/Senate Bill 7002 — This proposal, by Haile and Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, would make it a felony offense to recklessly threaten an act of mass violence, and require defendants charged with threatening an act of mass violence to undergo a mental health evaluation before being released on bail.
- House Bill 7005/Senate Bill 7004 — This proposal by Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, would authorize any private school serving pre-kindergarten through 12th grades to adopt a handgun carry policy for the private school’s property.
- House Bill 7006/Senate Bill 7005 — This bill by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, and Hensley, would allow the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to use already allocated state funds to hire private contractors to provide inpatient psychiatric services for the uninsured.
- House Bill 7028/Senate Bill 7006 — This bill, by Sen. Page Walley, R-Savannah, would clarify what local law enforcement should be notified when a person is committed to inpatient mental health facilities, and prescribes new notification of court clerks in the patient’s county of permanent residence.
- House Bill 7072/Senate Bill 7007 — This bill, by Rep. Mark White, R-Germantown, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a centralized system of case document management, filing, and electronic payment methods, for state and local court public case data.
- House Bill 7058/Senate Bill 7008 — This bill, by Haile and Cochran, would require mental health professionals and licensed behavior analysts to notify potential victims and law enforcement if a patient threatens actual bodily harm against a clearly identified victim.
- House Bill 7029/Senate Bill 7010 — This bill, by Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson, and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would require juvenile offenders 16 years or older to be transferred to adult court if they are charged with theft of a firearm, or any criminal offense while in possession of a firearm.
- House Bill 7047/Senate Bill 7011 — This bill, by Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, and Rep. Anthony Davis, D-Nashville, is aimed at preventing road rage, and would create a felony charge for reckless handling, display, or discharge of a gun while driving or riding in a car. The penalty would be one to six years in prison, and a fine of up to $3,000.
- House Bill 7037/Senate Bill 7012 — This bill, by Yarbro and Davis, would establish a 30-day deadline for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations to enter criminal records into databases used for criminal background checks.
- House Bill 7067/Senate Bill 7013 — This bill, by Yarbro and Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, would create a pilot program at the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to provide home-based mental health services to patients discharged from mental facilities after an involuntary commitment.
- Senate Bill 7003 — This proposal, by Haile, would exempt people from civil liability for damages, injury, or death resulting from the theft of their firearm or ammunition properly stored in their vehicle.
- Senate Bill 7009 — This bill, by Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, would require school districts to prohibit possession, carry, or storage of firearms or ammunition on school property by students.
- Senate Bill 7014 — This bill, by Yarbro, directs TennCare to apply for a federal waiver to provide housing for Tennesseans who need mental health services.
- House Bill 7001 — This bill, by Rep. Dewayne Thompson, D-Cordova, would require state-approved handgun safety courses to include instruction on the safe storage of firearms, including gun locks, beginning on Oct. 1, 2023.
- House Bill 7003 — This bill, sponsored by Lamberth, would expand a 2021 law to allow victims of aggravated stalking and especially aggravated stalking to seek a lifetime order of protection.
- House Bill 7004 — This proposal, also by Lamberth, would require mental health facility leadership to notify law enforcement when a person who received court-ordered treatment is released.
- House Bill 7007 — This proposal, by Lamberth and Bulso, would specify that autopsy reports for minor victims of violent crime are not public documents, but that a parent or legal guardian of the minor victim may consent to their release, as long as the parent is not a suspect in investigations of the minor’s death.
- House Bill 7008 — This proposal, by Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, would require mental health professionals and behavioral analysts to warn identified victims or groups if they determine that a patient has made an actual threat of bodily harm or intends to commit harm.
- House Bill 7009 — This proposal, by Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, would establish a student loan repayment program to incentivize mental health professionals to serve in Tennessee.
- House Bill 7010 — Sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, this proposal would create a felony of inducing or coercing a minor to steal a firearm or commit other felony crimes that involve firearm theft.
- House Bill 7011 — Also sponsored by Parkinson, this bill would create criminal liability for anyone who illegally transfers a firearm to minor criminally responsible for an “act of mass violence or a threat of mass violence in which the minor threatens to use the firearm.”
- House Bill 7012 — Sponsored by Lamberth, this bill directs the department of safety to provide free firearm locks to Tennessee residents on request and exempts firearms safes and safety devices from sales and use taxes.
- House Bill 7013 — This proposal, also sponsored by Lamberth, reduces the maximum time from 30 days to 72 hours within which court clerks must notify the TBI of the final results of criminal proceedings against a person.
- House Bill 7014 — This proposal, also sponsored by Lamberth, would direct the commissioner of finance and administration to submit Medicaid changes to allow TennCare to provide medical assistance to members who are receiving care in an institution for mental diseases.
- House Bill 7015 — This proposal, also sponsored by Lamberth, requires law enforcement to take DNA from any suspect arrested on probable cause of a felony.
- House Bill 7017 — This proposal, filed by interim Rep. Anthony Davis, D-Nashville, increases the penalty for stalking crimes if the offense was committed because the victim is a healthcare provider who performs abortions.
- House Bill 7018 — Another Davis proposal, this bill would increase the penalties for those stalking crimes if the victim is a healthcare provider and was targeted for providing gender-affirming care.
- House Bill 7019 — The proposal, by Davis, would create a felony hate crime for acts of mass violence against healthcare providers providing gender-affirming care.
- House Bill 7020 — This proposal, also by Davis, would create a felony hate crime for acts of mass violence against healthcare providers providing abortions.
- House Bill 7021 — This proposal, by Davis, creates a felony for knowingly threatening to commit acts of mass violence against healthcare providers providing gender-affirming care.
- House Bill 7022 — This proposal, also by Davis, creates a felony for knowingly threatening to commit acts of mass violence against healthcare providers providing abortion care.
- House Bill 7023 — This proposal, by Cepicky, would authorize law enforcement agencies to assign police officers to serve as school resource officers at schools during regular school hours and special events, even when the school district does not have a memorandum of understanding with the law enforcement agency.
- House Bill 7024 — This proposal, by Bulso, would require every public and private school facility to be equipped with an alarm system specifically for use during an active shooter scenario, that sounds different from a fire alarm, and alerts law enforcement without using the 911 system. State grant funding would be available to cover cost of installation and maintenance.
- House Bill 7025 — This bill, by Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, would require mental health professionals and behavior analysts to warn potential victims if a patient in their care makes a specific threat of harm against an identified victim, category of victims, or specific geographic target, and the provider believes the patient is likely to carry out the threat
- House Bill 7026 — This bill, by Zachary would institute new reporting requirements for juvenile court clerks pertaining to children who are adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.
- House Bill 7027 — This bill, by Lamberth, would require the state to pay for costs of court-ordered mental health evaluation and treatment for criminal defendants charged with a misdemeanor who are believed to be incompetent to stand trial, or who may have lacked mental capacity at the time of the offense.
- House Bill 7030 — This bill, by Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, would require juvenile offenders 16 years or older to be transferred to adult court if they are charged with gun theft or attempted gun theft, and lays out an appeals process.
- House Bill 7031 — This bill, also by Grills, would allow courts to transfer juvenile offenders 16 years old and older to adult court if charged with theft or attempted theft of a gun, and lays out an appeals process.
- House Bill 7032 — This bill, by Sexton, would require health insurance providers, including TennCare, to provide mental health services and treatment at the same level that they provide alcoholism and drug dependence treatment.
- House Bill 7033 — This bill, by Sexton, would require a public bail hearing before defendants may be released on bail.
- House Bill 7034 — This bill, by Sexton, would heighten penalties for stalking, aggravated stalking, and violating retraining orders for domestic abuse based on stalking, and require mental health assessments for defendants convicted of stalking offenses.
- House Bill 7035 — This bill, by Sexton, would establish a student loan forgiveness program for psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors.
- House Bill 7036 — This bill, by Sexton, would allow for emergency detention of people in a mental treatment facility if they are found to pose an “imminent” likelihood of serious harm. Currently emergency detention is possible when someone is found to pose an “immediate” risk of serious harm.
- House Bill 7038 — This bill, by Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton, would require the Department of Education to establish a grant program to reimburse schools when they install school safety alert systems.
- House Bill 7039 — This bill, also by Gant, would fund his proposed school safety alert system grant program.
- House Bill 7040 — This bill, by Lamberth, would create a board designation of “psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.” Individuals, when certified, would be permitted to provide psychiatric mental health services, diagnose, create a plan of care, prescribe drugs and other treatments without a collaborating physician.
- House Bill 7041 — This bill, by Lamberth, would require the TBI to submit annual reports on child and human trafficking crimes and trends, and on the activities of the bureau’s human trafficking unit to state leaders, with the first due on Dec. 1.
- House Bill 7042 — This bill, by Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, would require the Department of Education to audit each public school to assess compliance with safety laws and policies dealing with active shooter situations, and report results of the audit to the General Assembly. Audits would repeat every five years.
- House Bill 7043 — This bill, also by Barrett, authorizes anyone with an enhanced handgun carry permit to carry on school property, unless the school district already provides armed security guards. It would also allow law enforcement and corrections officers to posses firearms on school campuses.
- House Bill 7044 — This bill, by Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, would require notices to be placed on all school buses to notify that unauthorized people may not board, and require bus drivers and supervisors to receive training on how to deal with people improperly on school buses.
- House Bill 7045 — This bill, by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, would establish a pilot program under which a juvenile court may retain jurisdiction over a child until the child’s 25th birthday, and impose a sentence that could be imposed if the offense was committed by an adult.
- House Bill 7046 — This bill, also by Hardaway, would create a pilot program under which a juvenile court may retain jurisdiction over a child adjudicated delinquent for an offense eligible for transfer to criminal court and would allow the court to impose a sentence that could be imposed if the crime was committed by an adult.
- House Bill 7048 — This bill, by Cepicky, would allow physician assistants to complete the first certificate of need in support of hospitalization when other specified professionals are not available.
- House Bill 7049 — This bill, by House Minority Leader John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, would make it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, to knowingly ask or force a minor to steal guns from cars or homes.
- House Bill 7050 — This bill, also by Clemmons, would require the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to distribute gun locks to county sheriffs to distribute to the public, and would allow sheriffs to distribute multiple locks to the same person.
- House Bill 7051 — This bill, by Clemmons, would require multiple state agencies to work to establish a pilot program to rehabilitate juvenile offenders.
- House Bill 7052 — This bill, by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, would require hospitals to update the pyschiatric bed tracking system daily.
- House Bill 7053 — This bill, also by Sparks, would make gun safes and gun safety devices permanently exempt from sales tax.
- House Bill 7054 — This bill, by Littleton, would exempt people from civil liability for damages, injury, or death resulting from the theft of their firearm or ammunition properly stored in their vehicle.
- House Bill 7055 — This bill, by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, would make it a misdemeanor offense to sell, loan, or gift a gun to a child for the purpose of asking or forcing the child to commit a crime. The bill would also make anyone who does so civilly liable for any criminal act the child commits.
- House Bill 7056 — This bill, also by Hakeem, would expand the offense of aggravated stalking to include purchasing or attempting to use a semi-automatic rifle while stalking.
- House Bill 7057 — This bill, by Hardaway, would create an alternative sentencing pilot program for children adjudicated delinquent under the age of 25.
- House Bill 7059 — This bill, by Cepicky, would allow law enforcement agencies to assign officers to serve as school resource officers when the school board has not adopted a policy to assign an officer to the school.
- House Bill 7060 — This bill, by Rep. Mark White, R-Germantown, would require juvenile offenders to be transferred to adult court if charged with any of 15 violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, or carjacking.
- House Bill 7061 — This bill, by Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, would require the Tennessee Department of Education to notify each school district annually of all state and federal grant programs available to help expand mental health resources in schools.
- House Bill 7062 — This bill, by Grills, would authorize the TBI to inspect files and court records in juvenile court proceedings to comply with federal law.
- House Bill 7063 — This bill, by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, would allow public and charter schools to hire law enforcement officers retired from federal, state, or local agencies to serve as school resource officers, and requires school districts to adopt policies to govern such hires.
- House Bill 7064 — This bill, by Todd, would allow current and retired law enforcement officers, active duty and retired armed service members and enhanced handgun carry permit holders to carry handguns on public school campuses, including athletic fields. Guns may be carried openly or concealed.
- House Bill 7065 — This bill, by Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville, directs TennCare to apply for a federal waiver to provide housing for Tennesseans who need mental health services.
- House Bill 7066 — This bill, by Jernigan, would create a temporary youth mental health services program within the Department of Mental Health. The program would reimburse participating providers for up to three mental health sessions per youth client.
- House Bill 7068 — This bill, by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, would make it a felony offense for adult gang members to induce or coerce a child to steal a gun, and would make gang members who do so criminally responsible for offenses committed by the minor with the stolen gun.
- House Bill 7069 — This bill, also by Parkinson, would authorize the governor to expand Medicaid for mental health services.
- House Bill 7070 — This bill, by Lamberth, authorizes spending to cover the costs of the special session.
- House Bill 7071 — This bill, by Sexton, requires the TBI to submit a report on the number of mass shootings that occur in Tennessee to state leaders by Jan. 1.
- House Bill 7072 — This bill, by Sexton, would direct the administrative office of the courts to develop a centralized case file and document management system, allowing for electronic case filing and payments, for all state and local court public case data.
- House Bill 7073 — This bill, by Sexton, would require juvenile courts to impose a blended sentence for a juveniles adjudicated delinquent for certain offenses.
- House Bill 7074 — This bill, by Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville, would encourage lawful gun owners to store guns safely in a locked compartment, with a trigger locking device, or similar methods.
- House Bill 7075 — This bill, also by Freeman, would require anyone who purchases a gun or applies for a handgun carry permit to sign an affidavit promising to store the gun in a locked compartment or with a locking device when not carrying it.
- House Bill 7076 — This bill, also by Freeman, would require every public school district and every public charter school to employ one licensed professional school counselors for every 250 students, to be fully funded by the Department of Education.
- House Bill 7077 — This bill, by Hardaway, requires school districts to provide responding law enforcement agencies to their security systems during both drills and emergency scenarios.
- House Bill 7078 — This bill, also by Hardaway, requires defendants convicted of stalking and aggravated stalking to wear or carry a GPS monitoring device, and pay for associated costs.
- House Bill 7079 — This bill, by House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, would require federally licensed firearm dealers to install gun safety devices before delivering it to a purchaser if the purchaser is not a federally licensed firearm dealer.
- House Bill 7080 — This bill, by Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, would enhance penalties for reckless endangerment if a person’s failure to secure or lock a gun results in a child under the age of 13 gaining possession and committing an act of violence.
- House Bill 7081 — This bill, by Sexton, requires a person with knowledge of a threat of mass violence to report the approximate age of the person making the threat to the law enforcement agency, along with the other information.
- House Bill 7082 — This bill, by Sexton, is a caption bill.
- House Bill 7083 — This bill, by Sexton, would require the Department of Health to conduct a study of laws in surrounding states governing certifications and training for healthcare professionals to provide mental health services.
- House Bill 7084 — This bill, by Sexton, would expand the “duty to warn” of any actual threat of bodily harm to include all healthcare providers, not only mental health professionals and behavior analysts.
- House Bill 7085 — This bill, by Sexton, would limit expungement of juvenile court records. If passed, juvenile court records of a juvenile transferred and tried as an adult could only be expunged if the court in which the person was convicted orders the expungement.
- House Bill 7086 — This bill, by Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, would authorize school faculty and staff to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds, if they have an enhanced carry permit and complete basic training in school policing.
- House Bill 7087 — This bill, by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, would clarify that defendants who commit stalking and related offenses attributed to their “bias motivation against the victim” are hate crimes, and penalties will be heightened.
- House Bill 7088 — This bill, by Rep. Torrey Harris, D-Memphis, would require every state healthcare entity to provide coverage for treatment of mental health issues and substance use disorders.
- House Bill 7089 — This bill, also by Harris, would require police officers to detain a person for a mental health examination before issuing a charge or arrest if the officer believes the person may be subject to detention for care and treatment.
- House Bill 7090 — This bill, by Harris, would require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to use existing digital displays over interstates to post periodic messages to encourage safe storage of firearms.
- House Bill 7091 — This bill, by Harris, would make it a felony to threaten to commit an act of mass violence, and would classify the offense as a hate crime, heightening penalties.
- House Bill 7092 — This bill, by Harris, would require district-wide school safety teams and building-level school safety teams to review school safety plans annually.
- House Bill 7093 — This bill, by Harris, would require state safety and education agencies to inspect every public school facility in the state to assess their safety and security.
- House Bill 7094 — This bill, by Harris, would make it a felony to threaten to commit an act of mass violence, and would classify the act as a hate crime, with heightened penalties.
- House Bill 7095 — This bill, by Harris, requires school safety plans to include district employees, including substitute teachers, have classroom access to communications devices that allow for immediate contact with first responders.
- House Bill 7096 — This bill, by Harris, would establish a school bulletproofing grant program, to provide schools in counties with certain violent crime rates new funding to install bulletproof film on doors and windows.
- House Bill 7097 — This bill, by Harris, requires the Department of Education to make an annual report of threats of violence reported by school districts.
- House Bill 7098 — This bill, by Rep. Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar, R-Springfield, would require the state to keep a voluntary “do not sell firearms list” prohibiting possession and sale of guns to people who voluntarily receive treatment of a mental illness or emotional disturbance and volunteer to join the list.
- House Bill 7099 — This bill, by Freeman, would allow a judge to grant a temporary order of protection requiring a person to surrender all their firearms and ammunition to local law enforcement for up to 180 days, if they are determined to pose a significant danger of injury to themselves or others, after a court hearing and mental assessment. A person may request a hearing to end the order at any time after the order is made. Having a firearm when prohibited from doing so by such an order would be a felony.
- House Bill 7100 — This bill, by Freeman, would establish a process for law enforcement to petition for a temporary mental health order of protection.
- House Bill 7101 — This bill, by Freeman, would also establish a process for law enforcement to petition for a temporary mental health order of protection.
- House Bill 7102 — This bill, by Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, would require school districts to schedule a mandatory minimum amount of social interaction time for students each month, based on the amount of instruction time, “to improve students’ ability to recover from stress, anxiety, and depression.” Students would not be allowed to use cell phones to satisfy the requirement.
Below are the two bills I carried this special session. House bill 7052, formerly know as house bill 0842 will be heard once again in Febuary 2024.
- House Bill 7052 — This bill, by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, would require hospitals to update the pyschiatric bed tracking system daily.
- House Bill 7053 — This bill, also by Sparks, would make gun safes and gun safety devices permanently exempt from sales tax.
However, some good news is amidst this stand-off, a compromise was eventually reached with the House, resulting in additional funding for mental health providers and school safety being added to the budget and our gun safe permanant sales tax cut saving the taxpayers $1,600,000 million—a win for conservatives. This was the “only” legislation that gun rights and gun reform advocates would agree on, ultimately, concluding the special session.
Feel free to email me your thoughts and ideas to help improve our state at MikeSparksTn@gmail.com or call my office 615-741-6829