Legislative session lurching to its end

May 28, 2019

The Legislature is lurching toward the end of its 2019 session, which is scheduled to adjourn on June 30, if all goes well. There are still several major decisions to be made, and several of our priorities are alive and well.

To refresh your memory, you can find the summary of our priorities here: https://namior.org/2019-priorities/

Here’s an update on the status of our priorities.

* Senate Bill 137: Requiring coordinated care organizations to live up to their name and actually coordinate. This was our NAMI Brain Trust proposal. The bill was killed behind the scenes by opponents and never made it out of the Senate Health Care Committee.

* Senate Bill 138: Reauthorizes the Mental Health Clinical Advisory Group. This bill is alive and well and odds favor it passing. We are hoping for some additional resources to staff the group, but even without a small additional infusion of state general funds, this bill should move out of the Joint Ways & Means Committee and get to the floor of each chamber for approval. See summary at: https://namior.org/sb138/

* Senate Bill 763: Adds definitions to civil commitment statutes. By lowering the bar slightly to meet criteria for civil commitment, our hope is that people who now enter the Oregon State Hospital via the criminal justice system will do so through the civil system and avoid a criminal record. This bill is stalled in the Joint Ways & Means Committee with an uncertain future. See recent coverage from OPB at: https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-mentally-ill-committed-civil-rules-health-safety/.

* Lottery bonds for behavioral health housing: Still alive. We are proposing that $20 million in lottery bond proceeds be deposited in the Housing for Mental Health Fund. Read a summary of the Fund and examples of the Fund in action at: https://namior.org/housingfund/. Bonding decisions are made by the Joint Committee on Capital Construction. Legislators like the concept, but it’s not a certainty that funding will be approved.

Among our other priorities, Senate Bills 1 and 221 are companion legislation that address children and youth with complex needs. You may have followed news coverage about such youth, who are shipped to out-of-state treatment placements that are abysmal. These bills would create new policy and invest $40 million in new services and supports. While not guaranteed to pass, they are supported universally among legislative leadership and by the governor, so success is likely.

And more resources may be headed to schools. In the massive $2 billion tax package for K-12 education is funding for mental health resources. But it’s unclear what that will look like on the ground in each school district.

Overall, it’s been a disappointing session for mental health and addictions. While legislators talked about our broken mental health system, no one was willing to do anything major about it. Rather, bills such as SB 137 were never taken seriously.

However, what the Legislature won’t do, state and federal courts might. A Washington County court is weighing whether to hold the state in contempt because it cannot meet a judge’s order to admit a county jail inmate in need of “aid and assist” restoration services.

And legal advocacy organizations are asking to revive a federal lawsuit from 16 years ago in which the state committed to timely restoration access for those in jail awaiting court proceedings who are ordered for aid and assist treatment. The organizations are asking the federal court to hold the state in contempt for violating the settlement agreement. It’s a similar tactic to what legal advocacy organizations used in Washington state, where a U.S. District Court fined the state millions of dollars and forced the state to invest more heavily in its treatment system.

Read more online about the Washington County case at: https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2019/04/we-have-no-solution-grim-state-of-oregon-mental-health-system-laid-bare-in-court.html

And more about the federal case at: https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2019/05/citing-moral-emergency-attorneys-seek-contempt-as-oregon-defies-mentally-ill-defendants-rights.html