Minding Houston Episode II: Mental Health Money

As the 84th Legislative Session begins, our lawmakers are only constitutionally required to do one thing: pass a budget. While likely to pass over 1,000 other pieces of legislation, the Legislature is legally bound to determine the funding for state services for the next biennium. And that bill, the Appropriations Bill, is where questions about the financing for mental health services are answered.

Before looking at this biennium, it is worth looking at were we started. Historically, Texas has not funded services on the level with other states. The best study of this was done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in comparing per capita spending on mental health services.

From an interview I gave with Houston Public Media’s Craig Cohen on an episode of “Houston Matters” in June of 2014,

“For the Fiscal Year 2010, Texas ranked 49th in terms of per capita spending on mental health with right at $39. Keep that 39 dollar figure in mind for comparison sake. Our neighbors to the east in Louisiana spend $62 per capita, and further down the road, Alabama spends $78. Mississippi, who we are often compared to for social services, spends $114. The national average is $120.”

Meadows

So with that historical under investment in mind, what does Texas spend on mental health now? To best show the answer, our friends at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute produce the following slide that breaks down the figures.

Meadows

The vast majority of state spending on mental health comes from the $1.16 billion spent yearly by the Department of State Health Services. Roughly $160 million a year is spent on substance abuse.

Getting your head around those big numbers helps to show just how successful the last legislative session was for funding. A chart from the House Appropriations Committee hearing this summer outlines the additional $312 million in increased spending within DSHS. A breakdown of these additional expenditures is listed on the attached chart.Click for larger photo

While badly needed, last session’s invest won’t solve the problem of serving Texans with mental health needs. Aside from continued investment from lawmakers, Texas needs to expand the footprint of services so more people can have access. Thanks to a partnership between Texas and the federal government, and yes you heard that right, we are doing just that. More on that next time.

This is Bill Kelly for Minding Houston, a presentation of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.


We would like to thank both Houston Matters and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. To hear the rest of the interview, listen here at the Houston Matters website.

This episodes music included “Never Let it Go” by Bluesraiders, “Strange Sensations” by Anitek and “Plethora” by Anitek.

Minding Houston Episode I: Moving Forward in 2015

Welcome to the 84th Legislative Session! My name is Bill Kelly, the Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs here at Mental Health America of Greater Houston. With the start of new year comes 140 days of governing, and that means our advocacy will be kicking into high gear.

We invite you to keep up with our work by following our new Legislative Blog, “Minding Houston” where we will share the latest on issues and bill movement. 

I’ve been a Chief of Staff for a State Legislator and worked for the Mayor’s Office at the City of Houston. I’m very proud to work for the issues and policies that Mental Health America of Greater Houston has endorsed and look forward to using this blog to keep you updated on legislative progress.

To receive your free EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION to the blog visit mhahouston.wordpress.com

Enter your email address (see top right of page) to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.  Then select, SIGN ME UP.

[Transcript below]Cap Dome Lighter

Since the last Legislative Session ended, there have been a number of press reports about the progress made in Texas in mental health funding. The purpose of this blog is to help keep you updated with what policies Mental Health America of Greater Houston will be working on during 2015 and the stories of real people that these policies impact.

Recently, the Mental Health America of Greater Houston Board has approved series of Legislative Priorities. It is our hope to help tell the stories of how and why policy changes have dramatic impacts for the quality of life for those with loved ones suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse problems. By highlighting our priorities in press stories, we hope to raise the attention of lawmakers and hope they continue their efforts to invest in mental health.

To help set the stage, check out this article from our friends at the Houston Chronicle on July 12th.

Advocates are urging Texas lawmakers to remember the problems in the state’s mental health system after a couple of hearings in which progress on mental health has been cast as one of the Legislature’s greatest recent accomplishments.

Last session’s roughly $350 million increase in funding for mental health and drug abuse services helped reduce the number of Texans on a waiting list for psychiatric treatment from 5,515 last February to 790 this February, including from 1,750 to zero in Harris County, and 194 to 11 among children. The reductions were hailed at a state House Appropriations Subcommittee meeting last month.

“That’s an extraordinary outcome,” said Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, the panel’s chairman.

{…}

Still, Zerwas said the waiting-list reductions represent a “very solid first step.”

“We have made steps forward in the past,” the lawmaker added. “But every time we would make a step forward, we would next time make a step backward. So, a real focus of mine is making sure that we take another major step forward next year.”

This is where we hope to help Rep. Zerwas and the strong bipartisan coalition that wants to reduce the expensive consequences of failing to invest in mental health services. We need to move forward, and we know that we can by showing the solid return on investment that come with funding.

This is Bill Kelly for Minding Houston, a presentation of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.

Music from this episode: “The 3rd” by Anitek and “Looping Guitar Improv in Em” by Steve Combs.

Tick, Tock…The Session Clock is Ticking

In this post, learn about the budget, looming legislative deadlines and the status of behavioral health legislation.

A Little on the Budget

The conference committee on CSSB 1 has been meeting for a couple of weeks and initially hoped to have decisions finalized by the end of this week. However, they are still working in earnest, with the expectation that the decisions will be finalized by next week.

In related news, Governor Perry has threatened to not “sign the budget until he signs significant tax relief”. Last month, the Governor called for $1.6 billion in business tax relief. While CSSB 1 currently does not include tax relief, legislation is making its way through the House that would provide businesses with tax breaks under the much-maligned franchise tax. If that legislation doesn’t make it through the Senate, the Governor may make good on his promise and keep legislators in Austin until they deliver on one of his top priorities.

Session Deadlines Are Looming

Well, on this 121st day of the 140-day legislative session, the smoke has started to clear, and we can now see where all of the dead bills lie–and there are LOTS of them.  The deadline for house bills to be voted out of the House on second reading is tomorrow, meaning that bills that still are in the Calendars Committee are, for all sense and purposes, dead.

Possibly the most noteworthy among dead bills is HB 3791, Rep. Zerwas’ “Texas Solution” healthcare coverage expansion bill. While the bill was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee 15-9, the Calendars Committee failed to set it for a vote before the full House. This obviously represents a major missed opportunity to expand health coverage options for the uninsured, but there still remains a remote possibility that the budget conference committee will include language in the budget setting forth the parameters for Medicaid expansion negotiations.  Although the House passed a non-binding resolution instructing the House budget conferees not to vote to expand Medicaid, it is worth noting that all five of the House conferees voted in favor of HB 3791.  So while the prospects for expansion still look bleak, it aint over til it’s over.

Behavioral Health Legislation

The MHA bill tracker has been updated to reflect bills that currently are dead–over half of them! The dead bills are denoted with a blacked-out box next to the bill number.  However, remember that just because a specific bill is dead, it does not mean the issue is dead.  Several of the dead bills have Senate companions that are still moving along in the process, and others may be tacked on as amendments to other legislation.  Note that the House must hear all senate bills on second reading by May 21st (for the daily or supplemental calendar) or May 22nd (local calendar).

On the other hand, just because a bill on the tracker is not dead today doesn’t mean it won’t be dead as early as tomorrow.  The current House calendar is about 2 days behind, meaning that the House is just starting to debate some bills today that were originally set to be considered on Monday.  Because of this backlog, a house bill that has been set for the daily House calendar tomorrow (the deadline) may not even come up for a vote.  A sad, but true commentary on a process designed to kill bills!

However, there is some good news.  Several good behavioral health bills (and a couple so-so bills) are moving along and still alive…for now.  They include:

Passed Out of Committee

HB 2401 (Set for House calendar tomorrow)
Relating to the provision of community-based services to individuals who have or may have mental illness.

SB 109 (Out of House Committee)
Relating to a housing plan developed and certain housing information collected and reported by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

SB 1057 (Out of House Committee)
Relating to information about private health care insurance coverage and the health insurance exchange for individuals applying for certain Department of State Health Services health or mental health benefits, services, and assistance.

SB 1189 (Out of House Committee)
Relating to the disposition of certain firearms seized by a law enforcement agency.

Passed Out Of Chamber

HB 124
Relating to the addition of Salvia divinorum and its derivatives and extracts to Penalty Group 3 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act.

HB 1947
Relating to the criteria for commitment of a person with mental illness.

HB 2407
Relating to restoration of a person’s right to purchase a firearm on termination of a guardianship.

HB 2887
Relating to the establishment and expansion of community collaboratives by entities to provide services to and coordinate the care of persons who are homeless, persons with mental illness, and persons with substance abuse problems.

HB 3327

Relating to a list of mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs that may be selected for implementation by public schools. 

SB 44
Relating to maintaining and reporting certain information regarding certain child abuse or neglect cases and the provision of mental health services for children in those cases.

SB 338
Relating to the liability of certain social workers who provide volunteer health care services to charitable organizations.

SB 460
Relating to inclusion of instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders in the requirements for educator training programs.

Again, you can check the status of these bills (and all the dead ones) on MHA’s bill tracker by clicking here.

That’s all for now!

State and Federal Updates

In this post, surprisingly NO budget updates, but a little on Medicaid and federal and state behavioral health legislation.

Medicaid Expansion Being Debated Today

This morning, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Budget Transparency and Reform heard testimony on HB 3376 by Rep. Sylvester Turner, which would expand Medicaid to all individuals eligible under the ACA.  As previously mentioned, it is estimated that 90% of individuals currently receiving public mental health and substance abuse services would be eligible for Medicaid under such an expansion.

Dozens of advocates were out in full force to express their support for this important legislation.  NAMI Policy Director Greg Hansch and Hogg Foundation for Mental Health Fellow Peter McGraw gave testimony about the positive impact Medicaid expansion would have on people with mental illness.  The hearing recessed for House proceedings but will resume after the House adjourns for the day.

Other legislation the subcommittee will consider include HB 3791, Rep. Zerwas’ “Texas solution” Medicaid expansion bill, and HB 3339 by Rep. Martinez-Fisher, which would allow the use of Rainy Day Funds to restore the $5.4 billion cut from public schools last session.

Comprehensive Federal Behavioral Health Legislation Moving Forward

Last week I shared a little about S. 689, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, which is being sponsored by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkins. The bipartisan bill was introduced after the HELP Committee’s January hearing to assess the state of the country’s mental health system. The bill was voted unanimously out of the HELP Committee last Wednesday and is now awaiting action by the full Senate.

The bill takes a number of positive steps to promote prevention and early intervention and improve the delivery of mental health and substance abuse services. From the Section-by-Section analysis (with a few minor revisions), key provisions of the bill include:

• Encouraging the development of school-wide prevention programs, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports.

• Encouraging states to provide technical assistance to school districts and school personnel on the implementation of school-based mental health programs.

• Reauthorizing the Youth Suicide Early Intervention and Prevention Strategies grants to states and tribes.

• Reauthorizing the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services on Campuses grant program and updates the use of funds to allow for the education of students, families, faculty, and staff to increase awareness and training to respond effectively to students with mental health and substance use disorders, to provide outreach to administer voluntary screenings and assessments to students, and to enhance networks with health care providers who treat mental health and substance use disorders. Incorporates consideration of the needs of veterans enrolled as students on campus.

• Reauthorizing grants to states, political subdivisions of states, Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and nonprofit private entities to train teachers, appropriate school personnel, emergency services personnel, and others, as appropriate, to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, to become familiar with resources in the community for individuals with mental illnesses, and for the purpose of the safe de-escalation of crisis situations involving individuals with mental illness.

• Reauthorizing the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative.

• Requiring a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the federal requirements affecting access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment related to integration with primary care, administrative and regulatory issues, quality measurement and accountability, and data sharing.

• Directing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to advance the education and awareness of providers, patients, and other stakeholders regarding FDA-approved products to treat opioid use disorders; calls for a report on such activities, including the role of adherence in the treatment of opioid use disorders, and recommendations on priorities and strategies to address co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illness.

• Requiring a GAO report on the utilization of mental health services for children, including information about how children access care and referrals; the tools and assessments available for children; and the usage of psychotropic medications.

• Encouraging the Secretary of HHS to disseminate information and provide technical assistance on evidence-based practices for mental health and substance use disorders in older adults.

• Requiring a GAO study on the status of implementation of recommendations developed after the Virginia Tech tragedy, as well as identification of any barriers to implementation and identification of additional actions the Federal government can take to support states and local communities to ensure the Federal government and laws are not obstacles at the community level.

We will continue to monitor and share updates on this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.

Behavioral Health Legislation

Many pieces of legislation MHA is tracking continue to be on the move. In the last week, the following bills have passed out of committee or their respective chambers:

VOTED OUT OF COMMITTEE

HB 592
Relating to the definition of serious mental illness for purposes of certain group health benefit plans. 

HB 1947
Relating to the criteria for commitment of a person with mental illness.

HB 1952
Relating to professional development training for certain public school personnel regarding student disciplinary procedures.

HB 2392
Relating to the mental health program for veterans.

HB 2812
Relating to an annual report by the reentry and integration division and the parole division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

SB 34
Relating to the administration of psychoactive medications to persons receiving services in certain facilities.

SB 861
Relating to requiring certain notices to be posted on the premises of certain alcoholic beverage retailers. 

SB 913
Relating to the reexamination of an applicant for a professional counselor license. 

SB 914
Relating to a behavior improvement plan adopted for certain students with an individualized education program.

SB 1356
Relating to requiring trauma-informed care training for certain staff of county and state juvenile facilities.

VOTED OUT OF CHAMBER

HB 232
Relating to allowing certain minors convicted of certain alcohol offenses to perform community service instead of attending an alcohol awareness program.

HB 807
Relating to the practice of psychology; authorizing a fee.

HB 1738
Relating to a standard form of notification for the detention of a person with mental illness.

SB 718
Relating to voluntary and involuntary mental health services.

SB 831
Relating to a list of mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs that may be selected for implementation by public schools.

SB 898
Relating to the mental health program for veterans.

SB 1057
Relating to information about private health care insurance coverage and the health insurance exchange for individuals applying for certain Department of State Health Services health or mental health benefits, services, and assistance.

SB 1114
Relating to the prosecution of certain misdemeanor offenses committed by children and to school district law enforcement.

SB 1178
Relating to training for public school educators in identifying mental health and suicide risks among students.

SB 1352
Relating to inclusion of mental health concerns in existing state and local coordinated school health efforts.

For a more in-depth view of behavioral health legislation and MHA’s position on these bills, check out our bill tracker here.

More next week!

More on the Budget and Bill Updates

In this post, get an update on the state budget, some federal mental health news, and more bills!

State Budget

Last Thursday, the Texas House had a marathon debate on CSSB 1. The $193.8 billion bill passed the House 135 to 12. House members adopted dozens of amendments, including the following mental-health related amendments:

Amendment 41 by Zerwas, which would require DSHS and other state agencies to review and revise contracts with LMHAs to ensure compliance with federal requirements and to coordinate with private hospitals to improve access to services and funding under the 1115 Waiver;

Amendment 44 by Naishtat, which would provide $5 million over the biennium for technical assistance and grants to school districts that implement best practice-based positive youth development, mental health promotion, and substance abuse prevention and intervention programs;

Amendment 48 by Menendez, which would designate $37 million of mental health funds to expand or improve community mental health services and ensure funding equity among LMHAs;

Amendment 49 by Menendez, which would designate $57.2 million of mental health funds to eliminating the children and adult waiting lists and allocate any unused funds to LMHAs that are below per capita funding levels;

Amendment 57 by Naishtat, which would require HHSC to hire one FTE to maintain an interagency consortium to oversee the Texas Integrated Funding Initiative; and

Amendment 66 by Naishtat, which would allocate $150,000 to HHSC to facilitate cross-agency services to improve service delivery to, and outcomes for, children and their families.

In addition, an amendment by Rep. Lon Burnam and Rep. John Zerwas that would have set the parameters for Medicaid expansion in Texas initially passed by a vote of 86 to 57. A few hours later, however, Rep. Geannie Morrison made a motion to reconsider the vote, which passed by a margin of 93 to 54. Rep. Burnam subsequently withdrew the amendment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the end of expansion discussions. The Senate already included a similar rider in its version of the budget, and there is buzz around the Capitol that the House Appropriations Committee will be considering Rep. Zerwas’ “Texas solution” Medicaid expansion bill next week. So it aint over til it’s over…

Mental Health Moving Forward at the Federal Level

There are also some positive mental health developments going on at the federal level. President Obama is set to release his budget today, and reports indicate that he is asking for at least $235 million more for mental health services, including many of the projects he recommended in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. These include funding to train educators and other individuals on how to recognize the signs of mental illness, as well as funding to expand the mental health workforce.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee currently is marking up the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, a bill to reauthorize and improve programs related to mental health and substance use
disorders. While the text of the legislation is not yet available online, it likely is a combination of already filed legislation, including some of the President’s mental health recommendations. It is being sponsored by Chairman Tom Harkin, and is co-sponsored by 5 Republicans, including Ranking Sen. Lamar Alexander, and 4 Democrats on the committee. I’ll share more on this next week as additional information becomes available.

Behavioral Health Legislation

Many pieces of mental health and substance abuse legislation have been on the move. The following bills have been voted out of committee or their respective chamber:

VOTED OUT OF COMMITTEE

HB 459
Relating to the creation of a navigator program as described by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

HB 517
Relating to the eligibility of inmates convicted of certain intoxication offenses for release on parole or mandatory supervision.

HB 1191
Relating to certain information about housing for persons with mental illness provided through the Texas Information and Referral Network Internet site.

HB 1561
Relating to access to a deceased person’s mental health information.

HB 1739
Relating to the administration of psychoactive medications to persons receiving services in certain facilities.

HB 2240
Relating to a study on homeless youth.

SB 11
Relating to the drug testing of certain persons seeking financial assistance benefits.

SB 263
Relating to the designation of certain synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances and controlled substance analogues under the Texas Controlled Substances Act.

SB 264
Relating to the addition of a synthetic hallucinogenic substance to Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act.

SB 418
Relating to a notification requirement if a public school campus or open-enrollment charter school does not have a nurse assigned to the campus during all instructional hours.

SB 646
Relating to court-ordered outpatient mental health services.

SB 898
Relating to the mental health program for veterans.

VOTED OUT OF CHAMBER

HB 243
Relating to the authority of a community center that provides mental health or mental retardation services to sell certain real property of the center.

HB 808
Relating to the authority of a psychologist to delegate the provision of certain care to a person under the psychologist’s supervision, including a person training to become a psychologist.

HB 838
Relating to the monitoring of certain medications provided to foster children.

SB 1115
Relating to reporting, standards, restrictions, and requirements regarding public school disciplinary actions.

You can find out more about these bills using MHA’s bill tracker here.

Hasta next week!

The Budget, Parity and Bills

In this post, more about the budget, a little news on parity, and bill updates, including exciting news about school behavioral health legislation.

Budget Amendments

As I mentioned last week, the full House is scheduled to take up and consider CSSB 1, the budget bill, this Thursday. House members pre-filed a total of 267 budget amendments, which will make for a loooong day for members. Several behavioral-health related amendments have been pre-filed, including:

An amendment by Alonzo, which would require the collection of behavioral health outcomes data for indigent & Medicaid-eligible LGBT youth;

An amendment by Bohac, which would designate 5% of children’s mental health funding to mental health promotion, literacy and personal safety activities. This is a recommendation from the School Behavioral Health Initiative;

An amendment by Burnam to require expansion of Medicaid to all populations eligible under the Affordable Care Act;

An amendment by Sarah Davis to fund best practice-based school behavioral health programming; and

An amendment by Naishtat to fund an institution of higher education to provide technical assistance to communities across the state in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to serve children with Serious Emotional Disturbance.

All 267 amendments can be found here.

Getting Serious on Parity

As many of you know, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Dominici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) passed in 2008. However, to this date, the Obama Administration has not issued final rules for the law, which leaves in limbo some of the treatment and coverage requirements of the law. There has been speculation that some insurance companies have been skirting provisions of the law, and now, finally, the first class-action lawsuit citing MHPAEA violations has been filed. The lawsuit, which was filed in New York, accuses United-Health, UHC Insurance, United Healthcare of New York, and United Behavioral Health of violating the law by, among other things, limiting psychotherapy visits and denying long-term treatment. In the absence of final rules, there may be more lawsuits filed that seek to clarify these provisions.

If you are someone you know feels your insurance company is denying you needed mental health or substance abuse services in violation of MHPAE, please visit the national Mental Health America Parity Center to share your story. The Obama Administration needs to hurry up and issue those almost 5 year-late rules, or they may end up writing themselves through lawsuits!

Bill Updates

We’ve had some major movement on a number of mental health and substance abuse bills, but before I cover the full list, I want to hone in on specific school behavioral health legislation that passed Senate Education last week.

For those who recall, I mentioned in an earlier post that Sen. Dan Patrick, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, has previously expressed support for behavioral health initiatives and that I hoped we would see that reflected in the legislation that passes his committee. Well, last Thursday that hope came true!

The Senate Education Committee heard 3 pieces of school behavioral health legislation that MHA is supporting:

SB 831
Relating to a list of mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs that may be selected for implementation by public schools;

SB 1178
Relating to training for public school educators in identifying mental health and suicide risks among students; and

SB 1352
Relating to inclusion of mental health concerns in existing state and local coordinated school health efforts.

Particularly on SB 1178, the committee heard very moving testimony from a number of family members who have lost loved ones to suicide, including Linda de Sosa, a School Behavioral Health Initiative participant. After the testimony, two witnesses who initially were opposed to the bill withdrew their opposition.

All three bills sailed out of the committee unanimously, and the bills were referred to the Local and Uncontested Calendar. If they remain on that calendar, they will pass the Senate without debate.

Thanks to everyone who testified in favor of, or registered support for, these important bills.  We’ve got to start investing in prevention and early intervention if we are truly going to improve outcomes for children and adults down the line!

Other behavioral health legislation on the move include the following bills that have been voted out of committee:

HB 915
Relating to the administration and monitoring of certain medications provided to foster children.

HB 978
Relating to the transportation of certain patients to a mental health facility.

HB 1738
Relating to a standard form of notification for the detention of a person with mental illness.

SB 11
Relating to the administration and operation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

SB 1115
Relating to reporting, standards, and restrictions regarding public school disciplinary actions.

In addition, the following bills have been voted out of their respective chambers:

HB 144
Relating to a mental examination of a child subject to the juvenile justice system.

SB 36
Relating to the detention and transportation of a person with a mental illness.

SB 58
Relating to the integration of behavioral health and physical health services into the Medicaid managed care program.

SB 152
Relating to the protection and care of persons who are elderly or disabled or who are children.

SB 250
Relating to the requirements of using certain technology to conduct certain mental health hearings or proceedings.

SB 256
Relating to tracking career information for graduates of Texas medical schools and persons completing medical residency programs in Texas.

SB 401
Relating to a notification requirement if a school counselor is not assigned to a public school campus.

SB 462
Relating to specialty court programs in this state.

SB 715
Relating to use of consistent terminology to refer to school counselors in the Education Code.

SB 944
Relating to criminal history record checks for certain employees of facilities licensed by the Department of State Health Services.

SB 1185
Relating to the creation of a mental health jail diversion pilot program.

To see MHA’s full bill tracker for summaries and positions, click here.

That’s all I’ve got for now!  Toodles!

A Little News Here and There

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:

HB 232
Relating to allowing certain minors convicted of certain alcohol offenses to perform community service instead of attending an alcohol awareness program.

HB 591
Relating to the health professions resource center.

HB 1872
Relating to federal firearm reporting for a person who voluntarily identifies as a person with mental illness.

SB 1185
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!