Focus on Texas public school mental health legislation

On Thursday, the Texas Legislature advanced a series of mental health legislation despite  political controversy surrounding the topic.

The state’s approach to mental health care has been questioned in the past; experts argued that there were thousands of Texans who were in need of critical care but had minimal resources to utilize for treatment. These challenges were predicted to last for years because there was little being done in the Legislature to address the issue.

When budget cuts and hospital closures occurred in 2016 and 2017, the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health determined that mental health was one of the most crucial issues facing the State.

 

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This legislative session, Texas elected officials and the Governor have a renewed interest in providing critical mental health care services. Gov. Greg Abbott declared mental health a statewide emergency during his State of the State address earlier this year.

The emergency focus on mental health is a response to the Santa Fe School Shooting that occurred in May 2018.

In response, House Bill 906 was introduced this session. The bill requests that a task force be assembled to study the mental health services that are available to the state that can be utilized by public schools. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the bill’s sponsor, wants to develop better tracking of the resources that are already available in the state.

HB 906 came before the House on Friday, where long debates ensued. Representatives questioned student privacy and expressed concerns over government overreach, especially in mental health care. The bill was ultimately withdrawn from the calendar, but is scheduled to be reconsidered during the remaining five weeks in the legislative session.

Other bills seeking to address mental health have already advanced. House Bills 10, 18 and 19 have passed through the House and are headed to the Senate for consideration. Another Senate Bill has passed through committee 10-1. Here is what each bill seeks to accomplish:

House Bill 10: Would establish a research institute to collect data and provide guidance for future mental health legislation.

House Bill 18: Would research the mental health training requirements for public school employees, curriculum requirements, counseling and education programs, state and regional programs, and mental health reporting protocols.

House Bill 19: Would boost and create additional mental health resources for public school students.

Senate Bill 11: Would attempt to improve school safety and mental health resources in public schools.

The focus of each is on increasing mental health resources and awareness in public schools.

Each bill has to pass through the other chamber in order to be signed into law. Despite these additional hurdles, some elected officials and the mental health community are considering the proposed legislation a victory.

You can watch the chamber hearing from Friday, April 12, here.