(Jil Center Square) – The Texas Senate unanimously passed a sweeping mental health reform bill with bipartisan support. All senators voted for the bill except one who was absent.
SB 26, filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, seeks to expand mental health capacity, especially for children and teens, by creating a new grant program. It would lead a structured methodology for transitioning patients out of public hospitals and change current law relating to local mental and behavioral health audits, reports, services and programs.
It would also increase the transparency and accountability of Texas’ community mental and behavioral health systems in several ways. This would require them to submit to regular performance audits and increased data reporting, and direct the development of incentives to support the long-term placement of older Texans with intense behavioral health needs.
“Texas is poised to make a historic investment in mental health by expanding our state’s facilities and services,” Kolkhorst said in a statement. “This will go through local contracts and the construction of new equipment, this bill serving as a roadmap. Every state senator supports this bill because this issue affects every Texan. She also said the bill will “significantly reduce mental hospital wait lists so people get the help they need in local settings and finally end the cycle of Texans going in and out of hospitals, homeless shelters, streets or prisons”.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, hailed bipartisan support for the bill and said it was a legislative priority because it was a major concern of voters.
“When I traveled through rural Texas last year, I listened intently to Texans from all parts of our state explaining the need for improved access to mental health care,” he said. . “As lieutenant governor, I have already invested more in mental health care than any lieutenant governor in Texas history. This historic piece of legislation builds on what we have done over the past eight years in the area of mental health. This investment is a responsible use of our unprecedented budget surplus, and I am proud that the Senate has come together to support this important and historic undertaking.
State investments in state agencies allocated by the Legislature over the past three legislative sessions have totaled more than $1.5 billion.
The state legislative budget board says the measure will negatively impact general revenue funds by $13.9 million through the biennium ending August 31, 2025.
It also estimates that the likely net negative impact on the general revenue fund will be $4.2 million in 2024, $9.6 million in 2025, $3.8 million in 2026, nearly $991,000 in 2027 and nearly $992,000 in 2028.
The bill does not provide appropriations but provides the legal basis for an allocation of funds to implement the provisions of the bill, the analysis explains.
The bill seeks to “help defuse a family in crisis through the creation of a matching ‘innovation grant’ program that would provide funding opportunities to a variety of local providers, including hospitals, local mental health providers and nonprofits so they can offer new direct services to young people and families who are suffering,” the Kolkhorst office said, as well as helping public hospital patients find a supportive environment in the community after their release.
“I recently received a letter from a mother who was desperate for help,” Kolkhorst explained. “She contacted my office to get help for her 14 year old son who has been diagnosed with several emotional and behavioral disorders and is no longer able to live with his family due to the violent outbursts and physical abuse he inflicted on his family members. She literally has nowhere to go.
The grant would help families like hers, Kolkhorst said, by assisting with counselling, training, social services and other programs or treatments to help some teens develop coping and social skills and prevent tragedy to escalate with the criminal justice system or even prison.