State won’t absorb costs
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Apr 02, 2013 | 784 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Counties will receive little help in the form of changed legislation to the current costs for mental evaluation for those charged with misdemeanors.

First District Commissioner Ed Elkins said two pieces of legislation which would have brought changes to the current system and financial relief to the counties have been pulled from the legislative agenda.

“What’s on the floor now doesn’t really address the issue that we raised early on,” Elkins said.

The Bradley County Commission passed a resolution by a 12-1 vote supporting the legislation being considered. Elkins was the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Bill Winters was absent.

The legislation would place a cap of 11 months and 29 days on what the county can be charged when a person charged with a misdemeanor crime is committed to the state facility for treatment. This treatment would come after the person has already been determined “incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness,” according to the Bradley County resolution.

Previously, there had not been a cap.

The bill was proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and has passed already in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Current legislation does not make changes to the initial mental evaluation. The cost for this up-to-30-day mental evaluation would remain with the counties.

“This does nothing to give us any relief from what’s already in those other statutes,” Elkins said.

Mental evaluations for people charged with misdemeanor offenses cost Bradley County thousands of dollars each year.

According to the resolution passed Monday, the county has “paid $72,000 for in-patient and $3,000 for out-patient mental evaluations and treatment of defendants charged with misdemeanors” in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“Even though this bill is not going to give us exactly what we want, there may be ways that we as a community can do these things without costing us a lot of money,” Freiberg said.

Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said Davidson County has found a solution through having mental health personnel in its jail.

“They don’t send anybody to the state,” Freiberg said.

Implementing such a program in Bradley County would require the cooperation of the courts, District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office. Freiberg said Bradley County does not have this type of personnel at the jail.

Second District Commissioner Connie Wilson suggested the issue could be solved on a regional level by counties working together.

Fourth District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said the governor has expressed interest in helping the county with education on how to address this issue. Charges can also be dropped if the cost of mental evaluation would exceed the fine if the person was convicted of the misdemeanor, according to Lowe.

This approach was taken at the state level because other legislation on the topic would have required state funding.

- Funding was also at the center of discussion about forming an ad hoc committee to study the budget and bring back recommendations on funding a new academic building and other improvements at Lake Forest Middles School. A recommendation from the finance committee was pulled from the consent agenda and considered as part of the voting agenda.

The original recommendation gave the committee a deadline of May 1 to bring a recommendation.

Sixth District Commissioner Mel Griffith said an ad hoc committee needed more time.

“If this is a serious attempt to do this, it’s naive. If it’s not serious, it’s just a trick to try and promote a tax increase,” Griffith said. “This is a month at the height of budget preparation. It’s the worst time of the year to try to be on anything like this.”

A motion he made to put off forming the committee until after the budget cycle did not pass.

The motion that passed gives the committee a deadline of May 1 with an option to request an extension for more time. The motion passed 11-2, with Elkins and Griffith opposing.

- A meeting of the Bradley County Farmers Market North committee was planned. It will meet following the Commission’s next meeting. This season’s start date has been preliminarily announced as April 20.