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Minnesota lawmakers approve 'sorely needed' $93 million mental health package

Mental health advocates and public safety officials said the funding could help those in crisis and close gaps for those deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Minnesota Capitol Dome
The electrolier illuminated the dome of the Minnesota State Capitol building on the first day of the 2019 legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019.
Michael Longaecker / Forum News Service file photo
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers in the final hours of the legislative session passed a $93 million package of proposals aimed at boosting access to mental health care around the state and closing gaps for those experiencing mental health crises.

Going into the final weekend of the legislative session, mental health advocates urged legislators to make significant reforms to make additional care options available. And they called on them to pass a competency restoration provision designed to help those with mental illness or cognitive impairment and have been deemed incompetent to stand trial.

“Passage of the competency restoration bill will result in meaningful changes in people’s lives," National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota Executive Director Sue Abderholden said. "Instead of going through the revolving door into the jails, people with mental illnesses will be connected to the treatment, services, and housing they need to be well in the community."

Under the proposal, a person found incompetent to proceed with a trial because of mental illness or cognitive impairment would be paired with a forensic navigator to help ensure they have access to housing, health care and other needs. They would also be under supervision once they are released back into the community.

Public safety officials and mental health advocates said the "bridge plans" would help those individuals to get the help they need while also preventing additional offenses.

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“We have nothing in our system right now to do any of this. We have no structure within the court system to do this,” Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said during a Sunday floor debate. “This particular bill creates that structure, creates that network and I think it’s sorely needed.”

The proposal would also fund school-linked mental health and youth shelter-linked mental health programs, adult mental health initiative grants, mobile crisis services, loan forgiveness for mental health providers and free supervision for those pursuing licensure.

The funding will also open up crisis stabilization beds for children and youth, so that they no longer have to board in the emergency room.

“The whole goal of this bill was to get more access so we do not hear stories from our constituents that they had to drive six or eight hours to find somewhere for their loved one to get treatment," Se. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said.

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The Minnesota Senate advanced the plan unanimously on Sunday night, while the House passed it on a closer vote of 68-60. It moves now to the governor's desk for his signature.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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