Needed updates to civil commitment law, increased access to mental health treatment and beds, safe and supportive housing and other measures are priorities for the Minnesota Mental Health Network. The coalition of more than 40 organizations brought hundreds of people to the capitol March 12 for the annual Mental Health Day on the Hill. The group continues to bring forward the message that the mental health system isn’t broken, it hasn’t been built yet.
Building that system has become more challenging. With state lawmakers going into recess just a few days after the rally, the status of all legislation is up in the air. Barring a special session, legislators won’t reconvene until April 14. With the session set to end May 18, that isn’t a lot of time to act on important measures.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Minnesota Executive Director Sue Abderholden urged those at the rally to tell their stories and make sure their needs are known to state lawmakers. Legislators and Gov. Tim Walz told Minnesotans with mental illness that their priorities are also the state’s priorities, and that they’ll do what they can to get measures signed into law.
The 2020 Mental Health Legislative Network bills cover several areas. Three bills are the adult mental health focus. A badly needed update of civil commitment law, which has been studied by a task force for almost three years, is pending. The proposed amendments don’t change the standards for commitment and don’t make substantive changes to the law governing people who are deemed mental ill and dangerous, or under the sex offender program. The proposed amendments do clean up outdated language, expand the definition of mental health officer, make changes to 72-hour hold procedures, and make it easier to get needed medication to someone in jail. The changes would also create a new “engagement services” section to intervene before commitment becomes necessary and support someone with a serious mental illness to engage in treatment voluntarily.
Another proposed bill affecting adults would suspend CADI waivers while someone is in a hospital or regional treatment facility for 30 or more days. This would eliminate the problem of people on the waivers losing services that allow them to live successfully in the community.
A third focuses on the Fergus Falls Crisis Stabilization facility, and allows individual crisis stabilization providers and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) commissioner to negotiate sustainable rates for smaller crisis centers in rural areas.
In children’s mental health, proposals include technical changes to language on psychiatric residential treatment facilities for children and youth, ways to provide “comfort calls” connecting foster and biological parents within a set time during out-of-home placements, and a ban on so-called “conversion therapy.” Conversion therapy is a fraudulent practice when people who are LGBTQ are the target of those who think they can “cure” them of their gender.
Several bills focus on improved access to treatment, including development of a telemedicine platform, changes to post-partum Medical Assistance coverage, and changes to mental health rates to support community-based providers.
More teacher training on mental health issues, non-exclusionary discipline, a grant program to promote trauma-informed schools and changes to paraprofessional training are proposed for schools. One key proposal would create a comprehensive mental health services division within the Minnesota Department of Education. This would provide many ways to support students with mental illness.
The Mental Health Network supports a $500 million Homes for All bonding request. It would create more affordable housing including $40 million for emergency shelters. There is also a call for $25 million in bonding and $25 million in one-time funding to address the growing crisis of mentally ill homeless people.
Criminal justice measures winning network support additional considerations for veterans with mental illness at time of sentencing, and consideration of probation when a person receiving mental health treatment is sentenced.
The network opposes two bills. One would allow untrained physicians assistants to practice without a physician delegation agreement. The second bill is the DHS proposal “Families First.”
DHS wishes to make major changes to voluntary placement agreements. If approved, families voluntarily seeking residential mental health treatment for their child would have to undergo a relative search before the child could address needed mental health treatment. The proposal is seen as unfairly treating parents as if they are the problem, and blaming them for a child’s mental illness.
This issue’s legislative coverage is by Access Press managing editor Jane McClure.