Overbey, others push for passage of Kendra’s Law

Rep. Doug Overbey and State Sen. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), on Jan. 18 announced they will push for passage of Kendra’s law in the 2008 legislative session.

The legislators were joined by law enforcement officers, including Blount County Sheriff James Berrong, as well as local health care providers, social workers and families interested in passage of the bill.

“In a tough financial year, people say we can’t afford Kendra’s law,” Burchett said. “We say, we can’t afford not to do it. Our law enforcement authorities are continuing to have an ever-increasing load of mentally ill citizens. They are strapped for the kind of highly specialized resources needed to handle them. This law helps prevent victims, helps families with their loved ones, and helps law enforcement deal with a growing problem.”

Kendra’s Law is a bill first approved in New York state in 1999 that provides for assisted outpatient treatment for certain people with mental illness who, in view of their treatment history and present circumstances, are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision.

The law is named after Kendra Webdale, a young woman who died in January 1999 after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a person who was living in the community at the time, but was not receiving treatment for his mental illness.

Burchett said the law “balances individual rights with society’s need to protect people from harming themselves or others.” It provides for court-directed, physician-monitored treatment programs that could include mandatory drug compliance through law enforcement.

“I am glad to work with Senators Burchett and Woodson to pass this legislation in our General Assembly this year,” Overbey said. “The people of Tennessee, including those in need of, but who may not be getting mental health treatment, need the help and protection that this law aims to provide. I know it will be of great help to prevent tragic situations in the future.”

Under the bill, a petition for an order authorizing assisted outpatient treatment may be filed in a court by their parent, spouse, sibling or child as long as they are 18 years of age or older. The petition also can be filed by the director of a hospital, any public or charitable organization or home providing mental health services, or a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist who is treating the patient.

“We have the appropriate safeguards in place under the bill to protect all concerned,” Overbey said. “I am hopeful our legislature will find the dollars needed to pass the legislation this year.”

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