Rep. Mike Carter says mental health cases are driving jail overcrowding across Tennessee.
He told members of the Pachyderm Club on Monday that when the state began cutting back on mental health facilities that it then became the problem of sheriffs across the state.
Rep. Carter said sheriffs are ill-equipped to handle those individuals, whose real need is to see a mental health provider and get on the proper medication.
He told the group, "The state is constantly trying to shift its obligations onto the county. We have gotten far away from taking care of people who can't take care of themselves."
The former General Sessions Court judge said almost half of those at the Hamilton County Jail have some sort of psychiatric issue.
He said Charlotte, N.C., dealt with the problem by buying an old hotel and putting those with mental health issues there - instead of at the jail. He said mental health professionals are present to assess the individuals and get them on the proper medication.
He said it has been a big money saver overall for Charlotte, and he said he and others in the Legislature are working on funding for a similar pilot program in Hamilton County.
Rep. Carter said the Bass Pro Shop in East Ridge was built on land that had long belonged to the state Department of Transportation. He said, "It had been lying there unused and not bringing in any tax money."
He said a move then began to examine all TDOT property not in current use. He said, "Most of it is at interstate interchanges, where it could be used for hotels and motels and bring in tax proceeds."
Rep. Carter said TDOT could keep lands essential for future widenings and other needs, but should make available non-essential land.
The speaker also said he has been trying to find out how the EPA exempted Memphis from emissions control requirement and not Hamilton County and others.
He said he has been promised the reasoning, but has not gotten it yet.