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Multimillion-dollar bill to reimburse Tennessee law enforcement agencies for costs transporting the mentally ill goes to governor

Chattanooga Times Free Press - 5/1/2019

May 01-- May 1--NASHVILLE -- Tennessee local law enforcement agencies would be reimbursed millions of dollars statewide for costs they face for transporting persons believed to be mentally ill to hospitals under a bill headed to Gov. Bill Lee's desk.

The Senate voted 32-0 for the transport-cost reimbursement bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. House Bill 643, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, previously passed the House.

It's expected to cost the state more than $3.85 million in Fiscal Year 2020/2021 and increase to more than $9.75 million in subsequent years, according to fiscal note.

Local agencies' costs would decrease by more than $741,000 in FY 2020-2021 and exceed $3.6 million in following years.

The senator said local law enforcement officials often face having to transport persons believed to have problems first to hospitals and often later to mental health facilities. That requires two officers and a patrol car and in some cases hours-long travel.

Gardenhire said he brought the bill after Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson raised the issue to him. It's also been an issue in Hamilton County.

"Sheriff Steve Lawson said it's killing our budget," Gardenhire said.

Lee has agreed to fund the bill.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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