Despite Controversy, Mental Health Bills Move Forward At Texas Legislature | KERA News

Despite Controversy, Mental Health Bills Move Forward At Texas Legislature

Apr 19, 2019

The issue of improving mental health care across the state seemed like a unifying theme at the outset of this legislative session. It was also highlighted as an emergency item by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who called for more student mental health screenings in response to last year's Santa Fe High School shooting.

Now, it's become the subject of some controversy at the statehouse. 

Take House Bill 906, brought by Representative Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from the Houston area. The proposed legislation calls for creating a task force to study the mental health services funded by the state that are available in public schools. With all the talk of improving these services, the bill aims to keep better track of what is already available and who is being served.

Last Friday, Representative Jonathan Stickland, a Republican from Bedford in Tarrant County, spent about 10 minutes testifying against the bill. Stickland raised concerns about student privacy, government overreach and overburdening school districts.

"Government being involved in any kind of health care is a bad deal, but especially the newest moves in regards to mental health," Stickland said. "I've been astonished by how many liberties and rights are under attack under the name of mental health services."

At one point, Stickland even spent time reading this Texas Tribune article word for word. But ultimately, the bill was withdrawn from the calendar. 

It's now scheduled to come back before the House next week, but with about five weeks left in the regular session, its fate remains unclear.

Other mental health bills are making progress. House bills 18 and 19, which aim to boost resources for student mental health in public schools, have passed out of the House and are now making their way through the Texas Senate. This pair of bills comes from Representative Four Price, a Republican from Amarillo. And the House has passed both. 

House Bill 10, another proposal from Rep. Senfronia Thompson, also passed out of the House and now heads to the Senate. This proposal calls for creating a research institute to help guide the future of mental health care in the state.

On the Senate side, another bill that aims to boost mental health services and improve school safety has passed out of committee.

Advocates are cheering all of this on as a victory for mental health care in Texas. But all of these bills have to pass out of both chambers in order to become law.