February 25, 2014 Legislative Update

The disAbility Law Center of Virginia promotes and protects the rights of all Virginians with disabilities.  The dLCV may educate policymakers about the impact of proposed legislation.  Contact us at info@dLCV.org or at 1-800-552-3962 if there is a policy matter of concern to you that you feel we should be addressing.

Mental Health Bills

The House and Senate have passed bills that will impact the way in which people in mental health crises can access emergency services.  Both sides seek to extend the time during which someone can be held under an emergency custody order – the House would extend the time period from the current six hours to a maximum of eight, while the Senate would extend the time to 24 hours.  Under the House plan, the extra time would be only through a judicial grant of an extension, while the Senate leaves it at an open 24 hour period.  Advocates are concerned about holding a person who is in crisis in a non-treatment setting for that extended period of time.  Law enforcement advocates are concerned about the diversion of law enforcement staff during the extended time period.

Both the Senate and the House bills establish state facilities as a bed of last resort – if a local facility can not be identified during the ECO period, then a state facility must agree to accept the person in need of treatment.

Both the Senate and the House bills establish an electronic psychiatric bed registry.  The House plan calls for the registry to be updated continuously.  The Senate plan calls for daily updates in the registry.

The Senate plan also extends the time period for a temporary detention order.  Currently, a TDO lasts for a maximum of 48 hours, at which time a commitment determination must be made.   The Senate bill extends the TDO period to a maximum of 72 hours with a minimum of 24 hours. The argument for the extension is that most people will be able to be stabilized in that time period and will not have need for further and possibly involuntary hospitalization.  Civil liberties advocates have argued against the extension and especially against the 24 hour minimum.  The House rejected this extension and stripped funding for it from the budget proposed by the Governor.

The Senate proposals are combined in one omnibus bill, originally SB 260 but now under HB 478, HB 293 and HB 243, which all contain essentially the same provisions.  The House proposals were in several different bills, but are now incorporated into SB 260.  (After crossover, each house can “conform” the proposal of the other house.  Essentially, they reject the proposal from the other house and substitute their own proposal.  So, at this point in the process, the House proposals are in a Senate bill while the Senate positions are in a House bill.)

We expect these and other mental health issues to be resolved in a conference committee between the House and the Senate.  Conference committee meetings are not open to the public.