Mentally Ill Inmate Bill Makes It To The Big Time

The Minnesota House of Representatives released its omnibus health and human services budget today– and while a lot of the attention focused on the bill’s cuts to MinnesotaCare, there was some news in there for Bemidji, too. Tucked inside the 354-page bill was a provision by Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji to put $1.5 million in state money toward the planning and development of a mental health center in Beltrami County for people under arrest or undergoing a mental health crisis. The Beltrami County facility would, in turn, serve as a pilot program to help understand how to develop more centers in Minnesota.

Our own Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp went down to St. Paul to testify for the bill at a hearing at the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. Hodapp said 70 percent of the inmates at the county jail had mental illnesses, or 2,100 of the 3,000 people booked last year.

In a release touting the bill, Hancock said it was “making headway,” and that it would make life better for those mentally ill people who need help.

“We’re talking about helping folks that do not belong in jail, the emergency room, or back on the street,” Hancock said. “In some crisis situations Beltrami County law enforcement has to transport people with mental health issues to Fargo, North Dakota. This legislation would provide needed assistance locally.”

Hancock also gave some more details about what the facilty would look like. It would have eight to ten crisis beds in Bemidji, and would also “provide a three day program dealing with various stages of inpatient and outpatient care and housing.”

There’s obviously a lot of support in Bemidji for the mental health center idea: over 100 people liked the Pioneer’s Facebook post with a link to a Session Daily story on the hearing, as of about 5:45 p.m. on Thursday.

The trick now is to channel that support into pressure on the Legislature to actually pass the bill. A companion to Hancock’s House bill in the Senate is up for possible inclusion in  their omnibus HHS bill, which hasn’t been released yet. Even if the mentally ill offenders bill moves forward in the Senate and passes on the floor there, it still has to survive conference committee between the Senate and the House.

There’s still a long road for the funding proposal to travel, but Hancock is right- it is making headway. It’s up the Bemidji-area legislators like Hancock, John Persell and Tom Saxhaug to light the fire under committee chairs and make sure the mental health initiative survives. It’s also up to Beltrami County citizens –and those people across the state interested in the welfare of mentally ill inmates– to voice their support beyond a Facebook “like”.

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