Our View of the Legislature: Mental Health

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Advocacy on behalf of individuals with serious mental illness is a significant part of our mission at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia. To support that mission, we monitor legislation that addresses mental health issues and we support those that advance individual rights. Where proposed legislation has a potential for negative impact on individuals with mental illness, we work to help policy makers understand that impact. We will oppose the legislation if we are not able to assist in improving it.

Here are some updates on some of the bills we are watching in two different areas, the Behavioral Health Commission and the Transfer of Custody in an ECO:

Behavioral Health Commission: One very important legislative proposal that we support is HB 1232 (Robinson), which adds to the membership of the Behavioral Health Commission two citizen members who have received mental health services in Virginia. This important addition to the Behavioral Health Commission will help to ensure that any legislative changes being considered take into account the impact on the people most directly affected. This Bill has passed out of the House Committee on Rules with a small annual cost, and was approved House Appropriations.

Emergency Custody Orders and Transfer of Custody: A number of bills address the desire of law enforcement to transfer custody of minors and adults after the execution of an emergency custody order (which is the very first “involuntary” stage in responding to someone who is in a crisis):

Four bills addressing ECO and the Transfer of Custody were filed in the House:

HB 135 (Cherry, Anderson) had language in it similar to Senator Peake’s SB 176, below. This bill passed out of the House Courts of Justice Committee but was tabled in House Appropriations.

HB 159 (Byron), and HB 1037 (Sewell) also address the transfer of custody of a person under an ECO. These two bills have not yet been heard in the House Courts of Justice Committee where they are assigned. However, the committee has addressed the issues raised in those bills already.

HB 163 (Ransone) is a comprehensive bill that addresses the transfer of custody of a person under an ECO, and addresses the potential that an individual might also need unrelated healthcare during that time. After several hours of discussion and a substitute filed, this bill passed out of subcommittee last week as an undrafted substitute. The substitute was then approved by the full House Courts of Justice committee yesterday.  Importantly, the bill preserves all timelines in the involuntary treatment process; it does not extend any involuntary periods for the purpose of transferring custody or securing transportation.

Four of the Senate bills addressing ECOs and the Transfer of Custody have passed out of the Senate Committee on Education and Health: SB 650, SB 268, SB 593, and SB 682. The bills were heard in Senate Finance and Appropriations, HHR subcommittee, where the subcommittee proposed rolling all three of the bills together. This morning in Senate Finance, SB 682 (Deeds) and SB 650 (Hanger) were incorporated into SB 268 (Favola) and reported out 16-0.  The three different concepts that are now in one bill are:

SB 268 (Favola, Boysko) would require law enforcement to retain custody until such time as an evaluation can be conducted, but would make the identification of an alternative transportation provider a priority for the magistrate.

SB 682 (Deeds) allows a facility staff to accept custody of a person after the issuance of a temporary detention order if the facility has no available bed space

SB 650 (Hanger) allows the transfer to an alternative transportation provider immediately on identification of the provider. This bill also incorporated SB 176 (Peake).

An additional bill dealing with transfer of custody reported out of Finance this morning. SB 593 (Newman) would allow local law enforcement to create auxiliary police and allow immediate transfer of custody to auxiliary police or to an alternative transportation provider.

There is one more Senate bill addressing the transfer of custody, SB 713 (Deeds), and will also allow for an emergency custody order to be extended for 23 hours if there is an appropriate 23-hour unit available. This bill will be heard in Senate Judiciary, possibly on Wednesday, February 9th.

We strive to advance independence, choice and self-determination; protect legal, human and civil rights; and eliminate abuse, neglect and discrimination of people with disabilities, including those with mental illness, through zealous and uncompromising legal advocacy. Please continue to check back here for updates as the session proceeds, and let us know of any legislative proposals or budget issues that you think we should be following.  Contact us at info@dlcv.org or by calling 1-800-552-3962 or 804-225-2042.