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Alabama House passes package of bills aimed at improving mental health care

The Alabama House of Representatives last week passed a packet of three bills that aim to improve mental health offerings in the Yellowhammer State.

The votes on all three bills were unanimous, with legislators on both sides of the aisle supporting the initiative.

The passage of the bills was spearheaded by Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) who has made mental health a legislative priority of House leadership.

The effort, if made law, would be the first voluntary investment in mental health by the State of Alabama since the 1960s.

The three main pieces of legislation were as follows:

    1. HB 341, which would require a mental health coordinator on the payroll at every school system.
    2. HB 340, which would let law enforcement take into protective custody for 72 hours those displaying symptoms of mental illness.
    3. HB 326, which would require officers of the law undergo mental-health-related training before being commissioned.

The legislation in question was sponsored by Ledbetter, State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) and State Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) respectively.

“Improving and expanding the mental health services offered by the state will give new hope and needed help to thousands of our fellow Alabamians and the friends and family members who love them,” said Ledbetter in a statement.

Ledbetter’s HB 341 is the bill that would have the state government require and provide funds for a mental health service coordinator at every local board of education in the state of Alabama.

According to the text of the legislation, the coordinator will be “responsible for coordinating student mental health services throughout the local school system.”

The bill also lays out the requirements an individual would have to have in order to qualify for the post.

Allen’s HB 340 would allow officers of the law to take into protective custody people the officers believe to be a “danger to himself or herself or others.”

For an individual to be kept in protective custody, two medical professionals would have to sign a statement saying they believe the individual is mentally unwell.

Those in protective custody would be cared for at a healthcare facility and could be kept for a maximum of 72 hours.

Reynolds’ HB 326 would require officers-in-training at an academy to undergo 16 hours of mental health awareness training before being certified as an officer of the law.

It would also require currently certified officers to complete a continuing education course on mental health awareness.

The full package also includes two resolutions that were passed beforehand.

A resolution from State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) calls for appropriating the funds requested by Governor Kay Ivey to build three 24-hour crisis care centers that would offer services like suicide prevention and other mental health services.

Crisis care centers are often highlighted by industry experts as effective, less expensive treatment centers that free up hospital beds.

A resolution from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) urges all of Alabama’s counties to consider the Stepping Up initiative, an effort to reduce the number of people in jail with mental illness.

“Studies estimate that one in four Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, so simple math indicates that everyone, whether aware or not, knows someone who is struggling and needs these services,” concluded Ledbetter.

All three bills head to the Alabama Senate for consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.