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By: Michael Goldberg

Mental Health Colorado – a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to promote mental wellness and ensure equitable access to mental health and substance use care – compiled a legislative report for the 2020 session.

The 2020 legislative session was thrown off course by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing lawmakers to adjourn in March. When lawmakers returned at the end of May, they were forced to shelve many pieces of legislation in favor of addressing the immediate impacts of the pandemic, such as shoring up the public health system and budgeting for revenue shortfalls.

According to Mental Health Colorado, the volatile events of the past several months significantly altered the fiscal outcomes of mental health and substance use policy work.

Nevertheless, the organization listed a number of mental health related bills across seven issue areas that it supported. Below are notable mental health related bills which passed in the 2020 session and were supported by Mental Health Colorado, as summarized in their 2020 legislative report. For the entire list of bills, see the report.

Strong start for all children

HB20-1113 Mental Health Educational Resources – Sen. Jeff Bridges (D) and Sen. Paul Lundeen (R) Rep. Brianna Titone (D) and Rep. Kevin Van Winkle (R)

A health care need demands a health care response. Safe2Tell is an anonymous tip-line for Coloradans to report anything that concerns or threatens them. Too often, students call Safe2Tell for a mental health need only to be met by law enforcement. HB-1113 ensures that only calls involving school safety go to law enforcement while calls for youth seeking mental health services will go to the Colorado Crisis Services.”

HB20-1053 Supports For Early Childhood Educator Workforce – Sen. Tammy Story (D) and Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D) Rep. Emily Sirota (D) and Rep. James Wilson (R)

HB–1053 creates policies that will support the early childhood workforce. In particular, the bill solidifies in statute a framework and infrastructure for the Colorado Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program (ECMHC). Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants can now expand into new locations such as pediatric health care offices and work with child welfare caseworkers. It also creates competencies standards for early childhood mental health consultants working in the state.”

HB20-1312 Behavioral Health Training Requirements Educator License – Sen. Nancy Todd (D) and Sen. Dennis Hisey (R) Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D) and Rep. Brianna Titone (D)

HB-1312 will prepare teachers to support their students’ ongoing mental health needs so we can provide a strong start for all of Colorado’s children. The bill creates the expectation that 10 out of the 90 hours required for teacher re-certification include some form of behavioral health training that is culturally responsive and trauma- and evidence-informed. This bill was initiated by Mental Health Colorado early in the session. Due to complications with the pandemic, the fate of the legislation appeared to be threatened. But with diligent advocacy from Mental Health Colorado and the bill sponsors, leadership agreed to move the bill forward and it ultimately passed with bi-partisan support. Given that children may be deeply affected by the trauma of the pandemic, the timely passage of this bill will improve statewide response to the anticipated spike in mental health needs.”

Support for families

SB20-205 Sick Leave For Employees -Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D) and Sen. Jeff Bridges (D)
Rep. KC Becker (D) and Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D)

When we think about a community that strives to identify as healthy, we must acknowledge that we are living in a society where many working people have to absorb a damaging financial setback when they take time off for health reasons. There is something inherently unhealthy about a society that makes Coloradans choose between paying their bills and caring for a mental or physical health concern. Nationwide, we know that 26% of Black workers needed but could not take family or medical leave in the past year, which is 2 times higher than White workers. SB-205 will require certain employers to provide paid sick leave so that employees can attend to their health needs or the needs of someone they care for.”

Access to housing, supports, and services 

SB20-212 Reimbursement For Telehealth Services – Sen. Faith Winter (D) and Sen. Jack Tate (R)
Rep. Susan Lontine (D) and Rep. Matt Soper (R)

The rapid expansion of telehealth played an important role in keeping Coloradans safe during the pandemic. Securing this important achievement was a priority for Mental Health Colorado this session. SB-212 will protect access to telehealth to keep Coloradans safe and promote convenient, personalized care.”

HB20-1410 COVID-19-related Housing Assistance- Sen. Julie Gonzales (D) and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D) Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D) and Rep. Thomas Exum (D)

Without housing, there is no strong mental health. Mental Health Colorado is concerned about the anticipated mental health crisis created over months of uncertainty, that will only be exacerbated by looming evictions and a lack of housing supports. HB-1410 will disentangle the connections between unstable housing and poor mental health by taking a proactive and preventative approach.”

HB20-1411 COVID-19 Funds Allocation For Behavioral Health – Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D) and Sen. Rhonda Fields (D) Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D) and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D)

At a time when millions are being forced into isolation and society’s anxiety is high due to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, the state must be prepared to deal with the secondary pandemic of mental health and substance use concerns. The funding in HB1411—totaling $15.2 million—will provide life-saving mental health services to Coloradans in need of care.”

Wellness in aging 

SB20-033 Allow Medicaid Buy-in Program After Age 65 – Sen. Jack Tate (R) and Sen. Rhonda Fields (D) Rep. Susan Lontine (D)

Increases access to the Medicaid buy-in program for certain working adults with disabilities who have become ineligible for the program due to age.”

Reduce potential harm from drugs and alcohol 

HB20-1085 Prevention Of Substance Use Disorders – Sen. Faith Winter (D) and Sen. Kevin Priola (R)
Rep. Chris Kennedy (D) and Rep. Leslie Herod (D)

HB-1085 reduces the risk of harmful addiction and increases access to care for recovering from harmful substance use.

SB20-007 Treatment Opioid And Other Substance Use Disorders – Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D) and Sen. Faith Winter (D) Rep. Bri Buentello (D) and Rep. James Wilson (R)

SB-007 improves insurance coverage and increases access to care for substance use disorders. Upon introduction, the bill carried a $1.9 million price tag, funding a variety of services and programs. In its final iteration, the bill requires only $27,000 in state funds. While dramatically scaled-back, SB007 enacts a number of positive changes to treatment availability for substance use disorders. The stress and isolation from the pandemic have left many Coloradans more vulnerable than ever to the potential harm of drugs and alcohol, making the successful passage of this bill particularly timely.”

Decriminalize mental health

SB20-181 Measures On Incompetent To Proceed – Sen. Pete Lee (D) and Rep. Michael Weissman (D)

SB-181 makes improvements to the incompetent to proceed process for individuals involved in the criminal justice system. The bill addresses individuals who have been found incompetent to proceed multiple times, who have an intellectual or developmental disability, and individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes.”

End shame and discrimination

SB20-217 Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity – Sen. Leroy Garcia (D) and Sen. Rhonda Fields (D)
Rep. Leslie Herod (D) and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D)

Few things are more systematically harmful to the mental health of Coloradans than the questionable integrity or lack of transparency within law enforcement. With the commitment of public safety agencies to improving the life-preserving and equity of their service to our communities and the urgent attention that elected officials have shown in working together on this bill, we have a made a great start in healing some of the grievous hurt and division that have made our community unwell.”

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This content was originally published here.