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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act Hits Snag in Senate

January 2, 2014 | Justice | Comments
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Bipartisan legislation to support collaborative programs between criminal justice and mental health agencies has hit a snag after two Senators placed a hold on it last week, preventing the bill from coming to a vote before the full Senate.

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act (H.R. 401/S. 162) was introduced last January by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Congressmen Richard Nugent (R-FL) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill currently has 64 bipartisan cosponsors in Congress and was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote last June. Republican and Democratic Senate leaders had hoped to hotline the bill, with hopes that it would pass the Senate by unanimous consent.

Senate sources have told news outlets that Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Mike Lee (R-ut) blocked the bill because they believe that states – not the federal government – should govern how people with mental illness are treated. Senator Franken said that the two Senators are being heavily lobbied by their colleagues and outside groups to remove their holds and allow the bill to come to a vote. “I think we’ll get there,” he said.

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act reauthorizes and improves the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) of 2004. It supports mental health courts, law enforcement training and other collaborative approaches to identifying and treating people with mental illnesses who come in contact with the criminal justice system. It has been endorsed by law enforcement officials, judicial organizations, veterans groups, and mental health organizations, including the National Council.