AUSTIN – Speaker Joe Straus on Monday formed the House Select Committee on Mental Health in order to take a wide-ranging look at the state’s behavioral health system for children and adults.
Its membership will include legislators from a variety of House committees – such as Appropriations, Public Health, County Affairs, Insurance and Corrections -- with jurisdiction over certain mental health issues.
“We have taken some major steps to address the state’s mental health needs,” said Speaker Straus, San Antonio. “It’s important not to look at these issues in isolation, but rather to take a comprehensive view of how to improve the system. Many legislators asked that we take a closer look at various issues related to mental health and it became clear that one committee should look at all of those issues together.”
Speaker Straus named Rep. Four Price of Amarillo the Chair of the committee and made Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso the Vice Chair. The rest of the committee will consist of the following legislators: Reps. Greg Bonnen, Garnet Coleman, Sarah Davis, Rick Galindo, Sergio Muñoz, Andy Murr, Toni Rose, Kenneth Sheets, Senfronia Thompson, Chris Turner and James White.
Speaker Straus has asked the committee to review the behavioral health system, including substance abuse treatment, and recommend ways to improve early identification of mental illness and increase collaboration among entities that deliver care. The committee will also look at how to measure and improve outcomes; examine challenges of providing care in underserved and rural areas of the state; and identify the challenges of providing care to Veterans and homeless Texans.
Legislators increased mental health funding by more than $200 million when they met earlier this year. The current two-year budget appropriates $1.8 billion per year (All Funds) to mental health services.
“We owe it to taxpayers to make sure the system is as effective and efficient as possible,” Speaker Straus said. “The state’s approach to mental health affects everything from our hospitals to our schools to our jails, and that’s why this committee’s work is so important.”
In Bexar County, for example, law enforcement, the judicial system and health providers have worked together to improve care and reduce costs. According to Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, 700 of the approximately 3,500 people incarcerated in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center are being treated for some type of mental illness. The county has increased mental health screenings and assessments, helping it better identify individuals with mental illness so they can be diverted to treatment programs before they are incarcerated.
“Although addressing the challenges of mental illness is daunting, the timing is right to take action,” Sheriff Pamerleau said. “For the first time in 30 years, reducing incarceration and expanding rehabilitative opportunities for the mentally ill is getting national attention, both in Congress and in the media. We won’t make substantive progress if we don’t address the issue of seriously mentally ill individuals incarcerated in the nation’s jails and prisons.”
Office of Speaker Joe Straus