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Two More Mental Health Bills Advance In The Montana House

Montana House chambers.
William Marcus

The Children, Families, Health and Human Services interim Committee spent months studying several issues, including mental health services. That panel’s package intends to intervene early and when possible use community-based services.

Under House Bill 24, the interim committee found there are individuals at the Montana State Hospital who are ready to transition back to their communities. But Representative Casey Schreiner says they haven’t been released from the forensics unit at Warm Springs because they lack housing.

"What this would do is appropriate $3 million for the building or development of a facility that would be a transition group home for folks who have been found guilty but mentally ill, but have been found to be ready to be back in the community," said Schreiner.

This bill is part of the continuum of care, albeit at the back end says Representative Ron Ehli.

Ehli sponsored three of the mental health bills, House Bills 33, 34 and 35, that were given unanimous preliminary approval Tuesday. The Republican from Hamilton spoke in support of this bill.

House Bill 24 passed on an 85-to-13 vote.

Ehli also spoke in support of a separate bill that seeks to create a pilot project to divert youth from a residential treatment program.

House Bill 47 is sponsored by Representative Carolyn Pease-Lopez. She says the intent of this pilot program is to stabilize youth who face a mental health crisis.

"We will never be able to control the adult mental health system until we take care of our kids who are experiencing trauma crisis and emotional challenges," said Pease-Lopez. 

She says this pilot would save money because it costs almost 117-thousand dollars for placement to an out-of-state facility because there’s a shortage of beds in state.

Representative Ron Ehli agrees. He says the one-time-only request for about one million dollars will, in the long run, save money.

"I kinda go back to the old adage as a businessperson you gotta spend a buck to make a buck," said Ehli. "When it comes to state government in this case sometimes you gotta spend a little to save a whole lot. The last package that came close to doing what we are trying to do today cost about two thirds more money. It’s about an investment in Montana, it’s an investment in mental health. And it’s the right thing to do."

Representatives gave preliminary approval to House Bill 47 on an 84-to16 vote.

Afterwards, some lawmakers broke into applause as all five bills from the interim have now been given preliminary approval.

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