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Sponsors of Mental Health Bills Look for Way Forward

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Begich said he’s going to work to advance a piece of mental health legislation. His bill was one of several incorporated into the Senate gun package.

Other senators, such as Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, may be looking for measures on the horizon that could serve as vehicles to get their provisions into law. Franken spokeswoman Alexandra F. Fetissoff said he is working with Harkin and others to include mental health provisions in a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, expected to be marked up in June.

Franken has introduced a bill (S 195) designed to increase access to mental health services in schools, concepts of which were included in the HELP measure.

But some still expect the Senate to return to the gun package at some point, as promised by Majority Leader Harry Reid, and see round two as another path forward.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who introduced legislation that was not incorporated into the HELP measure, noted that her proposal was expected to be the next amendment up when the Senate stopped debating the gun package. Co-sponsored by Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, her bill (S 264) is designed to boost access to comprehensive community mental health services.

“We are committed to moving this forward regardless — gun debate, no debate,” Stabenow said in a recent TV interview. “But the truth of the matter is, in the context of the gun debate the one thing that everybody has said is that we need to increase community mental health services.”

If the Senate is able to pass a comprehensive background check and community mental health services, she added, “we could say at the end of the day, okay, we have done something that is meaningful and will change lives.”

Stabenow spokesman Cullen Schwarz said the bill “will be voted on as an amendment to gun safety legislation when it comes up again, and there is also broad support to pass the bill through other avenues if necessary.”

House Efforts

Across the Capitol, House lawmakers are focused on gathering information about mental health issues through letters and hearings but have not advanced legislation.

Tim Murphy, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired a forum and a hearing related to mental health this year and has scheduled another hearing for Wednesday focused on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. While the Pennsylvania Republican praised the Senate for working on mental health, he has expressed skepticism about the legislation advanced by the HELP Committee.

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, who co-chairs the Congressional Mental Health Caucus with Murphy, has been promoting a number of events in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Napolitano spokesman Jerry O’Donnell pointed to a mental health first-aid training event she co-hosted for lawmakers and staff. He also said the California Democrat has been working on collecting cosponsors for her mental health bill (HR 628), which is the House companion to Franken’s school measure.

“We’ve been working on increasing awareness of the importance of mental health legislation so when legislation moves from the Senate, we’re ready,” O’Donnell said.

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