83rd Legislature, Here We Come!

Tuesday, January 8th marks the start of the 83rd Texas Legislative Session, so get ready for 140 fast-paced days of legislative wheeling and dealing. MHA Houston staff and volunteers will be under the Pink Dome tomorrow to observe Opening Day ceremonies and talk with legislators about community mental health needs. Be sure to tune in to the Texas Legislative Update for pertinent mental health and substance abuse news.

Let the Good News Roll!

With many still reeling from the deep budget cuts made to health and human services during the last legislative session, it was great to hear the newest budget estimate from Comptroller Susan Combs. According to Combs, Texas will have $101.4 billion available for the state’s general fund—an estimated $96.2 billion that will be generated during fiscal years 2014 and 2015 plus an additional $5.2 billion in unexpected revenue left in the fund from the current fiscal year 2012-2013 budget cycle. While the Texas economy actually generated $8.8 billion more in revenue in the current budget cycle than originally anticipated, $3.6 billion of that will be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund, which will increase to $11.8 billion.

Additional Mental Health Funding?

This of course is great news for mental health and substance abuse advocates. Having a budget “surplus” significantly increases the probability that additional funds will be appropriated to meet the needs of mental health consumers and people in substance abuse recovery. In fact, State Representative Sylvester Turner has announced his intent to seek “an unprecedented level of funding for mental health services in this state,” recommending that the Legislature appropriate an additional $250 million for mental health services over the biennium. This initiative has bipartisan support from members of the Harris County State Legislative Delegation, including, but not limited to, Senators Joan Huffman and John Whitmire and Representatives Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, John Davis and Jessica Farrar. Rep. Turner also has discussed his proposal with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

MHA Houston will continue working with these and other legislators to advocate for increased funding for both mental health and substance use disorders so people can live their lives to their fullest potential.

Behavioral Health Legislation

At the time of writing, over 550 bills have been pre-filed in advance of the 83rd Legislative Session. A number of these bills address mental health and substance abuse issues, including:

HB 260 by Callegari, which would require an ignition interlock device to be placed on the motor vehicle of any individual placed on community supervision for certain offenses related to driving while intoxicated;

HB 282 by Lucio III, which would require school districts with 300 or more enrolled students to employ at least one certified school counselor for each 300 students. This bill reduces the counselor-to-student ratio from 1:500 to 1:300 and expands the requirement to intermediate, middle and high school students;

SB 44 by Zaffirini, which would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to track cases in which parents relinquish custody of their children to the State for the sole purpose of obtaining mental health services. While this is not an uncommon practice, DFPS currently does not track these cases; and

SB 152 by Nelson, which aims to address some of the cases of abuse and neglect against state hospital patients that have made headlines in the past few months. The bill would improve training for state hospital employees, establish a tracking system for reports of cases of abuse or neglect, and prohibit retaliation against any state hospital employee who cooperates with an investigation of these cases

For a more in-depth view of filed behavioral health legislation and to see MHA Houston’s position on these bills, go to http://www.mhahouston.org/files/255/.

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