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Tennessee Lawmakers Pass Bill to Involuntarily Commit Some Defendants Found Incompetent Before Trial

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Republican-led Legislature unanimously passed a bill Monday that would involuntarily detain certain criminal defendants for inpatient treatment and temporarily revoke their gun rights if they are declared incompetent to stand trial. ​due to an intellectual disability or psychological condition.

The proposal is named after student Jillian Ludwig, who was killed in November after being hit by a stray bullet while walking near the Belmont University campus in Nashville.

The suspect accused in her shooting had faced three charges of assault with a deadly weapon from 2021, but a judge dismissed the charge when three doctors testified that he was incompetent to stand trial because he is severely mentally disabled . Because he did not qualify for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, he was released from prison.

Ludwig’s family traveled from New Jersey to be present Monday as the House voted on the bill and then honored her with a resolution. Her mother cried and held a photo of her as the bill was voted on and the resolution read.

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“You sent your little girl to another state and you hoped it was safe,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth said, speaking to Ludwig’s family on the stand. “Her life matters. We are working to ensure this state is safer today.”

The bill now heads to Republican Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.

The bill’s requirements would apply to defendants charged with felonies or Class A misdemeanors. The person would remain involved until he or she is deemed competent to stand trial, or until the court approves a mandatory outpatient treatment plan that takes into account the safety of the community.

A suspect could try to convince a judge not to commit the offense by providing clear and convincing evidence that there is no substantial risk of serious harm.

The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor to possess or attempt to purchase a gun when a judge deems someone mentally “deficient” or commits him or her to a mental institution. Federal law already provides for criminal prosecution in that situation.

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Governor Lee’s latest budget proposal includes $2.1 million to fund potential additional involuntary commitments under the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Tempers briefly flared after Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell said the bill was a step in the right direction, but he also chided Republicans for shutting down discussion of gun control laws — a trend that the GOP’s supermajority has seen for nearly a year. held after a gunman killed six people. people, including three young children, at a private school in Nashville. He suggested introducing a red flag proposal to keep guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others, or a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.

Lamberth responded that Mitchell was pontificating about other proposals.

“This is the step I have taken. This is the bill I introduced. This is the family I’m fighting for,” Lamberth said, his voice breaking into a scream.

Mitchell responded angrily.

“Don’t act like I don’t care about that family,” Mitchell said, shouting that Republicans should have already passed gun laws that could have prevented tragedies like Jillian Ludwig.

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The discussion cooled when Republican Rep. Ryan Williams introduced Ludwig’s family and friends.

In the Senate on Monday, the debate was much more subdued and limited. Only two Democrats spoke in favor of the bill, but expressed some concern that the state has sufficient resources to effectively enforce the proposed changes.

The chamber then voted unanimously to send the proposal to the governor.

“This is the first time I know of us addressing gun violence in this state,” said Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell.

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Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this report.

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