Republican pushes mental health bill after Calif. mass shooting

 

A House Republican lawmaker is pushing his stalled mental health reform bill after a young man killed six people and then himself in Santa Barbara, Calif., over the weekend.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) convened a forum Thursday intended to build momentum for his reform legislation, which House leaders have failed to green-light despite its standing as the GOP's policy response to mass shootings.

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While the forum was scheduled before the Santa Barbara killings took place, the tragedy quickly became a focus for Murphy and those who support his bill.

"Before there was [California] shooter Elliot Rodger, there was Adam Lanza in Newtown, Jared Loughner in Tucson, James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., and Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard," Murphy said.

"What makes these painful episodes so confounding is the reality that so many tragedies involving a person with mental illness are entirely preventable," he added.

Murphy's bill takes cues from family caregivers of young people and adults suffering from serious mental illness, some of whom do not acknowledge their disorders and refuse treatment. 

The measure would withdraw mental health block grant funds from states that do not pass looser standards for involuntary outpatient care.

It would also amend the law that governs privacy in medical records to allow family members greater access to health information of mentally ill people in their care.

The bill is controversial with mental health groups that argue a less stringent approach to reform can be equally effective.

Easing standards around involuntary treatment can drive patients away from care, and privacy laws need clarification rather than amendment to keep families in the loop, they argue.

Groups have proposed substitute language that would allow states to adopt tested, assertive outreach programs to connect the mentally ill with services.

This approach would be an alternative to loosening standards for involuntary treatment and allow states to continue receiving mental health block grant funds.

The lack of consensus in the mental health community appears to be a barrier to progress for Murphy's bill. The measure has also lost a handful of Democratic co-sponsors since last month.

It is unclear whether the Santa Barbara shootings will push leaders to move the bill toward a vote given strong opposition in some circles.

Murphy and his allies argued that the current system cuts out family members of people who are potentially dangerous as a result of their mental illness.

Edward Kelley, an advocate whose son has schizophrenia, said Murphy's bill is necessary to improve public safety.

"Don't treat the seriously mentally ill who don't believe they're ill as if they will seek treatment, because they won't," he said.

"By doing that, you're putting me at risk. You're putting my wife at risk … You're asking too much of the families, and if the families ever give up, you're in deep trouble," he said.