Advancing bill broadens mandate for reporting mental health commitments

Many persons involuntarily committed to mental health institutions currently are not reported to the TBI for inclusion in the database of those ineligible to buy a gun because of a quirk in Tennessee law that would be eliminated by pending legislation, reports the Johnson City Press.

As things stand now, mental health hospitals licensed under Title 33 of Tennessee Code Annotated are mandated to report involuntary commitments. But hospitals licensed under Title 68 – including general acute care hospitals that have a psychiatric wing – are not.

SB2365, introduced as a caption bill, has been amended in committee “to fix this loophole,” the article says. Sponsors are Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and the TBI is advocating the measure as amended.

“More than half of the hospitals that accepted involuntary commitments are acute care hospitals that have psychiatric units or wings,” Joe Burchfield, vice president of government affairs for the Tennessee Hospital Association, said.

Between March 2010 and December 2017, just 39,422 individuals in Tennessee were involuntarily committed to a Title 33 mental health facility and their name’s added to the NICS system, according to TBI data shared with the Johnson City Press.

…“Right now, out of all 95 counties, about 60 or so have zero or one report out of the county, and we know that is not correct,” TBI senior policy adviser Jimmy Musice told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee last week.

Speaking to the Johnson City Press on Friday, Musice acknowledged the loophole in reporting involuntary commitments is concerning.

“We started to realize by looking at the data that this can’t be right. There can’t be this many people not entered,” Musice said.

…According to the bill, the hospital must document its compliance with a record of communication with local law enforcement with respect to involuntary commitments. A hospital’s failure to comply with the reporting requirements will subject the hospital to civil penalties or other action against the hospital’s license.

“We must ensure our existing gun laws are properly enforced,” Crowe said. “The verification process established by this legislation will close a major gap in how we protect our schools and all Tennesseans.”

Crowe’s bill also expands the amount of information that will be reported to the NICS system, requiring not just the name and date of birth, but also the person’s race, sex and Social Security number. 

Musice said about 73 percent of current NICS entries are just name and date of birth, which at times, makes it difficult on law enforcement in distinguishing between individuals.

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