Legislative & court updates for March 10, 2016

Senators plan to address crisis of U.S. mental health

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan group of Senate health committee members on Monday announced their plan to address the country’s mental health crisis and ensure Americans suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorders receive the care they need.

The bipartisan draft legislation works to bring the American mental health care system into the 21st Century by embracing mental health research and innovation, giving states the flexibility they need to meet the needs of those suffering, and improving access to care.

“One in five adults in this country suffers from a mental illness, and nearly 60 percent aren’t receiving the treatment they need,” said Senate health committee Chairman Alexander (R-Tenn.). “This bill will help address this crisis by ensuring our federal programs and policies incorporate proven, scientific approaches to improve care for patients. States like Tennessee and local governments are on the forefront in treating mental illness and substance abuse, and this legislation will support their efforts so people can get the help they need.”

Senators Alexander, Senate health committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) plan to introduce additional measures March 16 to strengthen access to and quality of mental health care.

The HELP Committee will also consider legislation at the March 16th markup to help tackle the opioid epidemic.

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 will:

  • Improve coordination between federal agencies and departments providing mental health care and improve accountability and evaluations of mental health programs.
  • Update the block grant for states.
  • Require that the federal agencies and programs involved in mental health policy incorporate the most up-to-date approaches and require that agency leadership include mental health professionals who have practical experience.
  • Increase access to mental health care for individuals, including veterans, homeless individuals, women, and children.

Same-sex parent adoption gets SCOTUS support

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) reversed a 2015 Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize a lesbian mother’s prior adoption of her three children in Georgia.

“No adoptive parent or child should have to face the uncertainty and loss of being separated years after their adoption just because another state’s court disagrees with the law that was applied in their adoption,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura, who is representing the mother.

‘De-annex’ bill clears state Senate hurdle

NASHVILLE — State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who is co-sponsor of legislation that would allow residents of sections of cities to vote in self-initiated referendums to “de-annex” their areas if a majority of voters approve, made the following statement after the bill overcame a key hurdle with approval by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee last week.

“It is time to provide a fix for those communities annexed against their will in prior years,” Kelsey said. “This legislation will bring much needed economic growth to neighborhoods like Cordova and Southwind, and I am very pleased that this bill is moving forward in the House of Representatives.”

Senate Bill 749 is currently pending final action on the Senate floor. The House version now moves to the floor of the House of Representatives for final consideration.

Senate advances bills to protect children from predators, abuse

Legislation advanced in the Senate last week to protect children against sexual predators and extend the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse from one to seven years from the date the child reaches age 18. Senate Bill 2484 aligns Tennessee’s criminal and civil statutes on the time limit for starting court proceedings.

Similarly, the committee passed a bill revising penalties for offenses of sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual contact with a minor by an authority figure and the lesser included offenses of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery.

Currently, it is unlawful knowingly to possess material that includes a minor engaged in sexual activity or simulated sexual activity that is patently offensive and each individual image, picture, drawing, photograph, movie or VHS counts as a separate charge, usually classified as a Class D felony. If the amount of images reaches more than 50, it is a Class C felony; more than 100 images is a Class B felony.

Under Senate Bill 1682 each motion picture, film or video recording will count as 51 images.
The bill passed unanimously and will next be considered before the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

On the Senate floor, final approval was given to three bills protecting children, including legislation that extends the statutes of limitations for some of the more severe cases of child abuse. Senate Bill 1447 would extend the statute of limitations to 10 years after the child reaches 18 years of age for aggravated child abuse, child neglect and endangerment.

State senators also voted to add child abuse, neglect and endangerment, as well as domestic assault, to the list of offenses in Tennessee for which pretrial diversion is not permitted.

Senate Bill 1564 now goes to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Finally, legislation which provides that referees or officials of interscholastic athletic events must submit to a criminal background check has passed. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) requires a background check under their rules for referees or officials. Senate Bill 2118 puts those rules in statute to help ensure children are safe from predators.

Birth control access gets Senate boost

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation last week that would give women more convenient access to birth control by allowing them to go directly to a pharmacist to get a prescription. The bill applies to women over the age of 18 and emancipated minors.

It is estimated that in Tennessee more than 50 percent of pregnancies are either unplanned or mistimed.

“Requiring a physician’s prescription can be an obstacle to access and effective use, especially among low-income women, when this can be safely issued by a pharmacist,” said Senator Dickerson (R-Nashville), the bill’s sponsor and also an anesthesiologist.

Senate Bill 1677 would only apply to pharmacists who join in a collaborative practice agreement with a physician and complete an approved training program.

The womanalso must complete a risk assessment screening prior to receiving the prescription.
In 2014 TennCare spent two-thirds of a billion dollars on pregnancy and child care from birth to the first year of life.

About 47 percent of all deliveries in Tennessee are paid for by TennCare.