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Legislature Making Progress on Redesign

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It is clear that redesigning the state's Mental Health and Disability Services (MH/DS) system is a multi-year process.  While the Legislature passed MH/DS Redesign in 2012, there are a number of transition recommendations that require legislative action this year, and of course, lawmakers need to make good on the funding promises made last year.

Here is a quick rundown of those MH/DS "must-dos" for this session:

  1. Transition Fund (Signed): The Legislature promised up to $20 million last year to help counties having trouble making ends meet during the transition year (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013).  The Legislature has addressed this need by appropriating $11.6 million to 26 counties (House File 160).  The bill became law on Thursday (March 28).

  2. MH/DS Redesign Technical Corrections Bill (Sent to Governor): It is pretty common for the Legisltaure to fix technical issues with bills passed, particularly when the issues involved are as complex as the MH/DS system.  Senate File 206 fixed a few issues that came up, like allowing a qualified mental health professional (rather than a psychiatrist) to oversee the newly authorized subacute facility programs, and allowing federal block grant funds that go to community mental health centers be used for training staff (rather than "evidence based practices").  Nothing controversial here; the bill has been sent to the Governor and will become law immediately upon signing.

  3. Judicial Work Group Recommendations (Survived Funnel; Ready for House Action): The Judicial Work Group made a number of recommendations, the most significant is moving the Mental Health Advocates to an independent state agency, and allowing them to be aligned with the new regional system.  The bill (Senate File 406) passed out of the House Judiciary Commitee this week, and beating the final legislative deadline.  It is now ready for debate in the House.

  4. Fiscal Viability Committee & Other Work Group Recommendations (Survived the Funnel; House & Senate Appropriations Committees): The recommendations of the work groups that met last summer (Children's Mental Health Work Group, Fiscal Viability Committee, Transition Committee) were drafted into a pair of bills (House Study Bill 229 and Senate File 415) that are currently being discussed in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.  They are slightly different - but both address the transition from legal settlement (and how those dollars get distributed); grandfathering in of non-target populations currently served by some counties; an end date for Medicaid to stop billing counties for services provided prior to July 1, 2012; data sharing between the state and regions; creation of a Children's Cabinet.  

  5. Per Capita Equalization Funding (House & Senate Appropriations Committees): Last year, the Legislature promised to "equalize" local spending on non-Medicaid services, so that every county is allowed to budget $47.28 per person living in the county.  Counties currently collecting more than that amount must lower their property taxes, and they receive no state funds.  Counties collecting less than this amount from property taxes will get a "per capita equalization" payment to bring them up to that level.  The state cost to do that this year is $29.8 million.  That appropriation is currently in Senate File 415 and House Study Bill 229, which are still in committee.  They are safe from the funnel deadline because they are appropriations bills, and therefore are exempt from all deadlines.  While it is good news that both Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate both include this $29.8 million in their bills, there does appear to be some disagreement over how the money should be distributed.  There are a few Senate Democrats who want to distribute the funds in a different way.