Another View: Republican congressman’s mental health legislation could cost California

07/16/2014 12:00 AM

07/15/2014 8:32 PM

I commend The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board for continuing to shine a light on the important issue of mental health, (“ San Francisco casts vote for compassion,” July 9).

California’s statute known as Laura’s Law gives counties the ability to implement court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment programs. Assisted outpatient treatment is one tool designed to help severely mentally ill patients and their families, and can be effective when implemented with proper infrastructure and oversight. Nevada County is a good example.

However, supporting Laura’s Law and supporting Rep. Tim Murphy’s HR 3717, as it is currently written, are different things entirely. While some of Murphy’s proposals in the 135-page bill have merit, others are problematic.

HR 3717 would withhold federal mental health funds if a state does not have an assisted outpatient treatment law that complies with Murphy’s specific requirements.

If HR 3717 were passed, five states would immediately lose federal mental health funding, and a number of other states – including California – would face uncertainty while state compliance is determined.

Addressing our nation’s broken mental health system is not a partisan issue. In fact, Congress recently made a historic $1 billion investment in mental health, which I authored, alongside Republican and Democratic colleagues.

This was not easy to do. Congress rarely authorizes $1 billion for anything these days. Only through a truly bipartisan process were we able to achieve this major victory for the mental health community.

It is my hope that through bipartisan work and compromise, we can craft meaningful comprehensive mental health legislation.

The severely mentally ill and their families need us to take action. But we must ensure this action does not increase stigma or take away local control to decide the best way to operate programs. We also cannot turn a blind eye to others who suffer from mental illness.

We need to make services available for people to get help long before, during and after a crisis situation.

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