Steinberg to push mental health plan in Washington meetings

01/17/2013 12:00 AM

01/17/2013 7:38 AM

California's top Senate Democrat will be in Washington next week to urge leaders to put a greater focus on mental health services in the wake of last month's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that he is extending his trip east for the presidential inauguration to meet with administration officials and congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the state's two U.S. senators, about increasing aid for preventive and treatment programs for the mentally ill.

The Sacramento Democrat has asked the administration to consider an approach based on California's Proposition 63, the voter-approved tax on millionaires to pay for mental health programs that Steinberg authored and championed.

"We have in California, as we do in so many other areas, led the way by investing a billion dollars a year in a system that is centered on prevention, early intervention and recovery for people who are most ill," he said. "That's worth sharing with the rest of the country."

Steinberg discussed his plans hours after President Barack Obama rolled out his own proposals for curbing gun violence, including increased training for helping at-risk students. Steinberg said while he supports stricter gun control measures, he believes putting more "meat on those bones" in the realm of mental health services could help prevent future violence.

In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading a task force on gun control measures, Steinberg estimated that replicating California's mental health law at the federal level would cost $10 billion. He acknowledged that "money is precious" in Washington given the debate over federal spending and the debt ceiling, but said such an investment "would save untold numbers of lives and help untold number of people."

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