Action at the federal level has been busy, confusing, and moderately successful during the last year. Numerical designations and titles of bills change as they are modified and time passes. Controversial items included the role of SAMHSA and funding for serious mental illness versus other mental health issues, sharing patient information with family members, involuntary commitment, and the value of peer services.
One of the best sources to follow federal legislation is govtrack.us. You can get email updates about progress by entering a bill’s number, find out if your representative is a co-sponsor or voted for the legislation and get a summary of the bill’s provisions. NAMI offers surprisingly little analysis of proposed legislation, but does sent out action alerts. Psychiatric News provides articles about legislation the American Psychiatric Association supports. Mental Health America offers a good list and description of mental health proposals. Their reservations about the proposals are helpful.
Criminal justice is one area in which Democrats and Republicans have found common ground. Unlikely allies have joined to push the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) co-sponsored (S993), which passed the Senate in December. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia) introduced an identical bill (H.R. 1854) , which was sent for action to the full House in January. That bill is co-sponsored by 57 Democrats, including liberal luminaries such as Charlie Rangel and John Conyers, and 40 Republicans. Our own liberal luminary Rep. Mark Pocan (D) is not a co-sponsor, as of today. The bill would provide funding for many of the criminal justice reforms proposed by the Dane County Board of Supervisors. More information is available on this blog in the criminal justice category.
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S 1893). They are chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and have worked together to promote mental health reform. The legislation passed the Senate and went to the House for action. It includes an eclectic group of provisions addressing mental health services for children, drug addiction, and integration of mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Other legislation proposed includes the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646), and the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015 (S 1945). Check back for action on these bills.