House Set to Address Mental Health Bills, One of the Speaker's Top Priorities

AUSTIN — Lawmakers in the House will take up a slew of mental health bills Tuesday, including three priorities for the chamber — expanding insurance coverage for mental health conditions, establishing a jail diversion program and improving mental health education.The proposals, and numerous others, are the result of months of research conducted last year by the House Select Committee on Mental Health, a collection of lawmakers from different backgrounds tasked with identifying weaknesses in the state's mental health system. Mental health is one of the few subjects that tends to unite members of the House and Senate. Both chambers are considering bills that address mental health workforce shortages, awareness and other industry needs. Budget proposals in both chambers would devote millions to the cause. Shortcomings in the delivery of mental health services are not new in Texas, so why are lawmakers pointing to mental health as a critical concern this year? "The shortest answer? Joe Straus," said Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, vice chairman of the interim committee. "He gave the subject matter its due time and credit. It's never been elevated to this level before. I'm glad to see other state leaders jumping on board, but why is it front and center? Because the speaker of the Texas House put it front and center." Straus, R-San Antonio, said addressing mental health needs in the state is "a top priority," which compelled him to convene the panel last year. "Our objectives coming into this year were to improve outcomes for patients and make the system more efficient for taxpayers," Straus said in a prepared statement. "We're making good progress towards both of those goals." There are specific programs and policies Straus and other lawmakers hope to pass this session, but Rep. Four Price, chairman of the Public Health and interim mental health committees, said the work won't stop this year. The proposals being considered will likely leave gaps the state can address down the line."The bills we're seeking to pass are foundational," he said. "They are really trying to create the opportunity to not only improve circumstances today but to enhance the possibility that additional resources or modifications would apply down the road."   Continue reading...

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