In this post, an update on the budget, a look at how Harris County squares up health-wise, and the status of a few bills.
On the Budget
Last Wednesday, the Texas Senate passed CSSB 1, the budget bill, on a vote of 29-2. The only “no” votes were newly elected Senator Sylvia Garcia and Senator Wendy Davis, largely due to the fact that the Senate version restored only $1.4 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public schools last session. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee substituted the bill with its own version and voted it out unanimously.
There are not significant funding differences for mental health and substance abuse services between the two bills, but one issue of note is that the House version added $2.5 billion for public education–over $1 billion more than did the Senate.
The full House is scheduled to take up CSSB 1 next Thursday, April 4th. A great thing about the House (at least to an advocate like me) is that all 150 members have an equal opportunity to put their imprint on the budget by offering amendments on the Floor. Expect anywhere from 200-300 amendments to be filed by this Thursday’s deadline, including a couple recommended by MHA. 🙂
State of Health in Harris County
In the recently released 2013 County Health Rankings and Road Map, a joint project of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Harris County ranked 70th among 232 counties. This is down from a rank of 53 last year. Williamson County was ranked first, and Polk County was ranked last. The rankings take a variety of health factors into consideration, including poor health and mental health days, excessive drinking, physical activity, and the rate of uninsured. For a complete look at the rankings, click here.
Bills on the Move
Many pieces of legislation that MHA is tracking are on the move. You can view an update on them all by checking MHA’s bill chart. Bills that recently have been voted out of committee include:
Relating to allowing certain minors convicted of certain alcohol offenses to perform community service instead of attending an alcohol awareness program.
Relating to the health professions resource center.
Relating to federal firearm reporting for a person who voluntarily identifies as a person with mental illness.
Relating to the creation of a mental health jail diversion pilot program.
In particular, I want to call attention to HB 1872, which would require the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to include in the information it reports to the Federal Background Check System a person who voluntarily identifies himself or herself to DPS or local law enforcement as a person with mental illness who should be precluded from purchasing a gun.
MHA and several other advocacy organizations oppose this legislation because it unfairly and discriminatorily singles out people with mental illness. While there may indeed be people with mental illness who would voluntarily place themselves on this list, there are likely just as many people without mental illness who would do the same. In my view, this legislation unnecessarily stigmatizes an entire group of people. Thankfully, the good folks at MHA Texas are working on a floor amendment that would strike the reference to mental illness in the bill. If it comes up for a vote on the Floor, look for an advocacy alert on that amendment, and please be sure to contact your representative and show them your support!
“A pen rather than a lance has been my weapon of offence and defence; with its point I should prick the civic conscience and bring into a neglected field men and women who should act as champions for those afflicted thousands least able to fight for themselves.”
–Clifford Beers: mental health consumer,Yale graduate, and founder of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, predecessor of Mental Health America
Write ya next week!