As you have probably heard, the governor has called the Texas Legislature back to Austin for a 30-day special session that began Tuesday, and has laid out an ambitious 20-item agenda for this session.
Additionally, many legislators, including myself, have encouraged him to add items to the call such as additional funding for the retired teacher health insurance program. Whatever he chooses to do, it’s his decision, but I’ll be there working diligently on your behalf.
In keeping with our theme of recapping highlights from this past regular session, this week’s column will focus on how the Legislature addressed the mental health crisis in Texas …
Addressing mental health
Leading up to the 85th Legislative Session, I met with judges and public safety officers from across our district who impressed upon on me the sense of urgency to improve access to mental health resources. Hearing them loud and clear, the Legislature responded and passed a number of bills into law, including new funding, which should greatly improve mental health care, especially at the local level.
For this column, I'd like to highlight two specific pieces of legislation that will help to address some of the exact concerns expressed when I've met with local officials across our region.
House Bill 13, a priority of the Texas House, establishes a matching grant program to support community mental health programs that provide services and treatment to individuals experiencing mental illness.
Senate Bill 292 creates a jail diversion program for those persons who should be admitted to a state hospital instead of a local jail. The bill is aimed at reducing recidivism, arrests, and the wait time for an extremely vulnerable population in our state. Additionally, it should save taxpayer dollars by keeping individuals who need mental health treatment out of our county jails.
In these pieces of legislation, the Legislature appropriated $67.5 million which will be distributed in the form of grants. I'm proud to report that in both bills, a significant portion of the funding must be reserved for smaller, rural, counties who choose to participate. Additionally, each bill requires stakeholders in the community to create locally driven solutions to mental health challenges within their area.
As you know, no county in our vast state has the exact same needs as another, and I was pleased that these bills allow decisions to be made at the local level when determining the best way to distribute the resources they're provided.
As we've done in previous years, the mobile office will not be on the road during the month of July. Our District Director, Linda Parker, will be stationed in the district office, and can be reached at (936) 634-2762. Our Capitol office will maintain regular business hours and can be contacted at (512) 463-0508. We will resume the mobile office schedule in August.
Please do not hesitate to contact either office if we can be of assistance to you in any way.