In this post, learn about Capitol Day, the budget, and bills!
A Clear Message on Capitol Day
On February 28th, hundreds of mental health consumers, family members, providers and other advocates descended on the Capitol to send legislators a clear message that mental health must be a priority this session.
MHA worked with NAMI of Greater Houston and St. Joseph’s House to send 2 busloads of advocates to the Capitol. Houston area advocates received advocacy trainings on the bus from MHA staff and volunteers, and received additional training materials from statewide advocacy groups in Austin. Before commencing with Capitol visits, all mental health advocates participated in a (positively) raucous rally that included addresses from a number of legislators, including Harris County members Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Debbie Riddle, and Rep. Gene Wu.
Advocates across the state met with a majority of the members of the Legislature to advocate for increased funding for mental health and other legislative initiatives. Of course, ALL of the participants are special, but I want to take the opportunity for a few shout-outs.
I want to thank MHA’s two Betsy Schwartz Interns–Yvonne Mendoza and Lisa Richardson–for their help in making Capitol Day a success. Yvonne conducted one of the legislative trainings on the bus, and both interns made legislative visits.
The contingent from St. Joseph’s House also made quite the impression on legislative staff with their heartfelt accounts of living with mental illness. A Chief of Staff for one of the members of the House Appropriations Article II Subcommittee commented on how courageous the group was and the importance of putting a face on mental illness. Kudos to Grant Kennedy and Laurie Hallmark for making that possible!
Finally, I want to thank mental health advocate and philanthropist Maureen Hackett for making several legislative visits that morning with MHA CEO Susan Fordice. Mrs. Hackett, along with her husband, Jim, also visited with Governor Perry’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Budget staff person regarding the importance of funding mental health services.
All in all, it was a FABULOUS day at the Capitol. But this is just the beginning. For everyone who attended–and even for those who did not–we’ve got to keep making our voices heard!
Andrea Wants to Marry the Senate Finance Article II Workgroup
No worries, honey–that headline isn’t literal! BUT I am just so completely impressed with the work of the Senate Finance Article II Workgroup under the leadership of Sen. Jane Nelson. While mental health advocates were trouncing around the Capitol, the full Senate Finance Committee voted to adopt the Article II Workgroup recommendations, which included an additional $197 million for mental health, as well as $30 million for substance abuse. The breakdown is as follows:
- $115.5 million for a comprehensive mental health capacity expansion, which includes public awareness, prevention and early identification services, community and crisis services, and expansion of the Youth Empowerment Services wrap-around program. Each item was explained more fully in a previous post;
- $57.2 million to completely eliminate the almost 6,500-person statewide mental health services waiting list (Almost 1,700 in Harris County);
- $26.9 million for housing supports for people with mental illness, including rental assistance and a new home- and community-based Medicaid 1915i state plan option; and
- $2 million for psychiatric residency positions within state hospitals
- $4.9 million to eliminate the almost 1,000-person statewide substance abuse services waiting list;
- $15.4 million for a 10% substance abuse provider rate increase;
- $10.1 million to fund substance abuse services for individuals referred by the Department of Family and Protective Services; and
- $1.1 million for the expansion of the Oxford House model in communities across Texas
I think it would be a good idea to thank the members of the Senate Finance Article II Workgroup for their prioritization of these funds. MHA will be sending out an action alert asking members to do just that.
Looking for More from House Appropriations Committee
The House Appropriations Committee is meeting today to hear recommendations from the House Appropriations Article II Subcommittee. From discussions with members of the subcommittee, the House’s mental health and substance abuse recommendations fund just a few of the exceptional items partially, leaving much left to be desired. However, the good news is, nothing is final until May, any many observers, including those in the Governor’s Office, feel that the House will eventually come around. I will keep you posted on House deliberations in this area!
New Senator from Harris County
Congratulations are in order for former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia! In the special election held this past Saturday to fill Senate District 6, the seat of the late senator Mario Gallegos, Sylvia Garcia garnered 53% of the vote to defeat Rep. Carol Alvarado and become the newest Texas State Senator from Harris County.
Sen. Elect Garcia was a firm supporter of mental health and substance abuse issues during her tenure on Harris County Commissioners Court, and I have no doubt she will continue to do so in the Texas Senate. MHA looks forward to working with her to move important behavioral health legislation forward this session!
Behavioral Health Legislation
As of yesterday, over 3,400 bills have been filed by House and Senate members. We’ll probably see another 1,000 or more before the end of the week. Mental health and substance abuse bills of interest include:
HB 2240 by Sylvester Turner, which requires the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), in coordination with TEA, DFPS and the Texas Homeless Education Office to conduct a study on homeless youth, including the number of homeless youth, their needs, and how well current programs are meeting those needs;
SB 831 by Taylor, which requires DSHS, TEA and Regional Education Service Centers to develop and annually update a list of best practice-based mental health promotion, positive youth development and substance abuse prevention and intervention programs that school districts may implement. This is another recommendation from the School Behavioral Health Initiative;
SB 861 by Davis, which requires the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to require an alcoholic beverage permit holder to post a sign on the premises warning about the dangers of driving while intoxicated and the average cost a person convicted of the offense can expect to pay; and
SB 898 by Van de Putte, which requires the Department of State Health Services to develop a mental health program for veterans that includes peer counseling, suicide prevention, and jail diversion
In addition to bills that have been filed, a number of bills MHA has been tracking have been voted out of committee. They include:
SB 250 by West
SB 50 by Zaffirini
SB 426 by Nelson
SB 306 by Huffman
SB 109 by West
SB 126 by Nelson
For a more in-depth look at mental health and substance abuse legislation and to see MHA Houston’s position on these bills, click here.
As always, stay tuned for more relevant updates!