Week 1 of the Lege and Some Local News: Part 2

In Part 2 of this post, check out the House and Senate budget plans related to mental health and substance abuse, updated legislation, and more on MHA Houston’s meeting with District Attorney Mike Anderson

All About the Budget

Well, they’re finally here! The budget bills–House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1–were filed late yesterday. Both spend roughly $89 billion in biennial General Revenue, and both slightly increase actual funding over the last biennium.  But don’t start applauding yet. According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the actual amount needed to maintain current service levels and account for growth is about $97 billion for the biennium. The budget bills present a mixed bag for mental health and substance abuse services, with mostly flat funding, though a few notable increases and decreases.  Highlights include: 

  • Funding for ongoing public community mental health services was cut by about $5 million over the biennium, reducing the average monthly number of adults served by about 300 in Fiscal Year ’14. These cuts are in addition to the roughly $25 million that was cut from adult mental health services last session;
  • Funding for ongoing public community mental health services for children also was cut by over half a million dollars, reducing the average monthly number of children served by about 200 in Fiscal Year ’15;
  • Funding for both state hospitals and community hospitals was slightly increased.  This seems to continue the Legislature’s trend of investing more money in acute care than in the community-based services that help keep people stable;
  • Funding for substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services was slightly increased by about $2 million, with no change in the number of children and adults expected to receive services; and
  • Funding for Communities in Schools was increased in the House Bill but remained static in the Senate bill, with an increase of over 30,000 more children served if the House version prevails.

To find out how other mental health and substance abuse services fared related to prevention, treatment, education and juvenile/criminal justice, click here.

While the initial budget bills certainly leave much left to be desired for behavioral health advocates, the good news is that the process is just beginning. We have the next four and a half months to impress upon the Legislature the need to increase funding for mental health and substance abuse programs, so we need all hands on deck!

Behavioral Health Legislation

In other legislative news, we’re now up to 800 filed bills as of Monday, January 14th. Mental health and substance abuse bills of interest include:

HB 424 by Burkett, which requires a group home owner to check the sex offender status of new residents and, within three days, notify other residents if a new resident is a sex offender;

HB 446 by Dukes, which requires DSHS to develop and make available on its website a pamphlet about the risks of alcohol consumption while pregnant, including fetal alcohol syndrome, and requires health care providers to counsel pregnant women about this issue and provide them with information; and

HB 473 by Turner, which requires Medicaid Managed Care organizations to require prior authorization before a child under the age of 5 is prescribed psychotropic medications and that HHSC to authorize a psychotropic medication through the vendor drug program before it is provided to a child under the age of 5

For a more complete list of filed behavioral health legislation and to see MHA Houston’s position on these bills, click here.

Meeting with Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson

Last Friday, MHA Houston CEO Susan Fordice, Public Policy Committee Chair George Parnham, and I met with Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson and Denise Oncken, Chief of the Mental Health Division, to discuss recommendations to improve the handling of people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system. The recommendations we shared included:

  • Continue the Juvenile Non-Petition Deferred Prosecution Program for first-time Misdemeanor A and B offenses;
  • Whenever possible, opt for pre-charge diversion into treatment for people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders who commit minor, non-violent offenses;
  • Increase use of deferred adjudication—in lieu of a conviction resulting in incarceration—for people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders who commit minor offenses;
  • If trace policy is discontinued, increase use of deferred adjudication—in lieu of incarceration—for individuals caught with trace amounts (less than 1/100th of a gram) of illegal substances; and
  • Leverage use of asset forfeiture funds to increase the availability of community resources that keep repeat offenders with mental illness and substance use disorders out of jail

Anybody who may have been concerned about how DA Anderson would approach these issues need not worry. He was very open and receptive to the ideas presented. His office plans to continue the Juvenile Non-Petition Deferred Prosecution Program, though we will have to work at the legislative level to ensure the offenses are expunged from juveniles’ records; he is willing to look at pre-charge diversions and increased use of deferred adjudication for certain offenses; and he is open to using the asset forfeiture funds for effective mental health and substance abuse programming. As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, his office already has authorized $500,000 of the asset forfeiture funds for the mental health dockets.

MHA Houston has agreed to conduct mental health trainings for prosecutors in the DA’s Office and be a resource whenever and however we can. We look forward to a strong continuing relationship with the DA to ensure that Harris County diverts people with mental illness and substance use disorders from the criminal justice system whenever possible.

Growing Up in America Radio Show

Yours truly was interviewed about children’s mental health on the Children at-Risk Radio Show, Growing Up in America. We had a really great conversation about some of the issues that will be addressed this session. To hear the podcast, click here. Growing Up in America airs every Monday from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. on 90.1 KPFT.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now!

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