Hawaii Senate Committee on Ways and Means passes four behavioral health bills


Shane Ersland


The Hawaii Senate Committee on Ways and Means passed four bills that aim to support behavioral healthcare on Tuesday.


Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.



Ways and Means unanimously passed Senate Bill 1044, which would appropriate funds to hire healthcare specialists for people with complex needs for Hawaii’s rural public schools. Keith Hayashi, the state’s superintendent of education, provided written testimony in support of the bill.

“The appropriation of funds to increase the behavioral health specialist workforce would strengthen the department’s efforts to meet the needs of students in Hawaii’s rural areas experiencing trauma, grief, family separation, depression, and other crises,” Hayashi said. “The allocation of $861,000 would fund the establishment of an additional 12 behavioral health specialists.”

Senators also unanimously passed SB 1594, which would establish a crisis intervention and diversion program within the Department of Health (DOH) to divert those with mental health issues to appropriate healthcare services. It would authorize a person believed to be imminently dangerous to themselves or others by a law enforcement officer to be assisted by a crisis intervention officer, and transported to a designated crisis center. 

Brandon Kimura, deputy administrative director of the courts for the state Judiciary, provided written testimony supporting SB 1594.

“Behavioral health crisis centers that provide care, diagnosis, or treatment of persons experiencing a mental illness or substance use disorder crisis could provide extraordinary value to individuals, families, communities, and public and private systems,” Kimura said.

Senators unanimously passed SB 1492, which would require the DOH to track and publicly report certain data relating to crisis reports, emergency mental health transports, and court-ordered treatments. It would require DOH to respond to reports about people having severe mental illness occurrences who are in need of assistance. The DOH would assess whether those people would fulfill the criteria for assisted community treatment.

The Office of Gov. Josh Green provided written testimony in support of the bill.

“SB 1492 would provide methods to treat individuals suffering from untreated severe mental illness, including through Assisted Community Treatment (ACT),” according to the governor’s office. “SB 1492 would also establish that a court’s denial of a petition for involuntary commitment shall serve as notification to the (DOH) that a person should be evaluated for ACT.”

Senators unanimously passed SB 1351, which would establish the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Program within the DOH to provide and coordinate mental health services for children from birth up to age 5. The program would develop and implement flexible strategies for the delivery of services and workforce training, and promote better understanding of the needs of infants and young children, the importance of positive early relationships, and the benefits of trauma-informed care. 

Hawaii Executive Office on Early Learning (EOEL) Director Yuuko Arikawa-Cross provided written testimony in support of SB 1351.

“EOEL supports the legislature’s efforts to provide an infant and early childhood mental health program to implement strategies that aim to support and strengthen young children’s growth, development, and learning by identifying, intervening, and preventing issues at some of the issues at some of the earliest stages of life,” Arikawa-Cross said. “We also support the legislature’s intent in the bill to support workforce training across the various early learning settings as workforce supports will be critical in implementing effective programming.”

The bills will now need approval from the House and Green’s signature to become law.