Colorado Lawmakers Prioritize Mental Health in 2019 Session
Bills would expand school access, allow for advance behavioral health orders
DENVER, Jan. 7—As the 2019 legislative session kicks off, Mental Health Colorado applauded lawmakers for making mental health a priority by introducing key bills to improve prevention and treatment services throughout the state.
One measure addresses the critical shortage of mental health resources in schools by bolstering the existing School Health Professional Grant Program to allow schools to team up with community partners to provide behavioral health services. A provision letting schools take advantage of telehealth technology would be especially valuable in rural areas, where specialists may be harder to come by. Sponsored by Sen. Rhonda Fields and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Donald Valdez, the legislation would also alter the criteria by which schools are prioritized for grants to include suicide attempts and death by suicide—a much-needed update as suicide is the leading cause of death for Coloradans between the ages of 10 and 24.
Another bill filed late last week would add Colorado to the list of 25 other states that enable individuals to create some form of advanced directive capturing their preferred treatments and medications in the event of a psychiatric episode. There is currently no statutory provision to allow Coloradans to express such wishes or empower an agent to make decisions on their behalf, an omission that often results in confusion for first responders and unnecessarily long hospital stays. This bipartisan proposal is being sponsored by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp and Lois Landgraf and Sens. Nancy Todd and Don Coram.
Mental Health Colorado President and CEO Andrew Romanoff hailed the recent success of 10 ballot measures to improve mental health funding—and urged state lawmakers to follow suit: “The voters said yes to mental health. The legislature should too.”
These bills represent just a portion of Mental Health Colorado’s policy agenda for 2019. As the state’s leading advocate for the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, Mental Health Colorado is advancing legislation that would: strengthen existing federal and state parity laws requiring equal insurance coverage for mental health; boost transparency and expand capacity of treatment services for mental health and substance use; and ensure that people with mental health and substance use disorders aren’t put in jails because of their symptoms. Additionally, we are calling on lawmakers to fund the state’s Zero Suicide framework and provide dedicated services for those with mental health and substance use disorders who are homeless.