Judiciary panel to consider mental health bill

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Jan. 26 on a mental health reform bill from Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Senate to vote on two gun bills Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling MORE (R-Texas), it announced Thursday.

Reforming the nation's mental healthcare system is seen as one of the few areas of potential bipartisan action this year in Congress. Republicans have touted the measures as their response to mass shootings. Democrats are pushing for new gun control measures instead but say they still support reform for its own sake. 

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Cornyn said at the Republican retreat in Baltimore on Thursday that there is a “tremendous opportunity to make progress” on mental health, given his bill and the other measures moving through Congress.  

Cornyn’s legislation is not yet getting a formal markup. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called Cornyn’s bill is a “good starting point” for discussion in the committee.

The legislation has been somewhat controversial, though. Democrats have argued that it would make it easier for mentally ill people to get guns, in part by strengthening requirements for a full judicial hearing before someone can be banned from buying firearms because of mental illness. 

There are many other bipartisan aspects of the bill, such as increasing treatment for mentally ill people facing incarceration. The bill also provides financial incentives for states to send mental health information to the national background check system used for gun buyers. 

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is also holding a general hearing on mental health on Jan. 20. 

Two members of that committee, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), have introduced a bipartisan mental health bill together that could see action later this year. 

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said this week that the Murphy-Cassidy bill could be merged with efforts from himself and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as well as with Cornyn’s bill. 

A House bill from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) is also working its way through committee, though it has encountered some obstacles

Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong contributed.