GOP mental health bill loses Dem co-sponsors

 

House Republicans' stalled legislative response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting is losing support among some Democrats, raising questions about the bill's prospects.

Three Democrats withdrew as co-sponsors of the mental health reform bill in the last week, along with one who retracted support in early April, according to a public database.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) was already struggling to make progress in the Energy and Commerce Committee after it angered consumer groups and Democratic members of the panel.

In endorsing involuntary treatment for those with serious mental illness, the bill became a flashpoint within the mental health community, which is hotly divided on how to reform the existing system.

Murphy quickly replaced two of the withdrawals with new Democratic supporters on May 20. The bill currently has 80 supporters, including 24 Democrats, a sign of Murphy's intense push for bipartisan support.

Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) withdrew their co-sponsorships in the last week. Del. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.) pulled away on April 2.

In a statement, Veasey said he initially supported the measure out of concern for the mental health system, but changed his position once he learned more about the legislation. 

He specifically took issue with linking mental health block grant funds to the passage of state laws easing access to involuntary treatment.

"I respect the intent of this bill and look forward to improvements but I believe clarification on these and other issues are necessary before I can continue to support the bill as a cosponsor," Veasey said.

 

Requests for response from the other three lawmakers were not returned.

It is likely more Democrats will pull away from Murphy's bill under pressure from outside groups.

The Democratic caucus introduced its own reform measure, authored by Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) with the backing of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on May 6. While that bill may attract further support, it has only its original four co-sponsors for now.

—This post was updated with Veasey's statement on Wednesday at 6:44 p.m.