Legislators were forced to use available revenues to safeguard the state during the pandemic as well as pay for favored initiatives.
The 2020 Colorado legislative session was really two sessions: those convening before and after the coming of the COVID crisis in March. Because Colorado law requires that lawmakers balance the state budget each year, legislators were forced to use available revenues to safeguard the state during the pandemic as well as pay for favored initiatives. Those measures that didn’t come with a fiscal note stood a better chance of survival than those that did. Importantly, legislators kept some very important programs in place even though limited funding will mean limited implementation.
early session bills that passed…
Early in the session lawmakers passed bills that:
- allow students to take excused absences for mental health concerns, and
- repeal the state’s death penalty.
later session bills that passed with little or no funding…
Later, measures passed that:
- provide for early childhood education without funding, paired with a plan to provide childhood mental health assessments,
- expand and improve Colorado’s “Safe2Tell” program to require that the state’s Department of Law route behavioral health calls to the Colorao Crisis Hotline, rather than to law enforcement,
- include mental health courses, along with classes in special education, as part of the requisite training for renewing teachers,
- require that the Colorado Department of Human Services create a website that provides links to information on behavioral healthcare,
- provide that money allocated for COVID relief in the Cares Act be used to pay for behavioral health needs related to corona virus. Additionally, this funding will pay for: substance abuse treatment, mental health needs related to opioid addiction programs for children provided by public mental health centers, crisis system services, mental health treatment in rural areas, and some housing assistance,
- create a statewide human services 2-1-1 referral system,
- pays for sick leave for employees, excluding employers with fewer than 16 workers for one year,
- expands Medicaid reimbursement for tele-health services, and
- institutes policing reforms.
NAMI supported bills that didn’t pass…
Bills supported by the Colorado organization of the National Alliance on Mental Illness that didn’t pass, included those that would have:
- created a program to develop supported housing ,
- expanded the types of organizations that could seek reimbursement for peer professionals in behavioral healthcare,
- provided for secure transportation for behavioral health crisis calls, and would have thereby reduced law enforcement involvement, and
- required insurance coverage for mental health wellness exams.
Besides acknowledging the importance of the”Social Security disability application Assistance” statute by preserving it, state legislators also kept a mental health task force in place to help guide their decisions…
A landmark law passed in 2019 that provided for state-funded navigation services for Coloradans with disabilities was preserved by lawmakers at the end of the 2020 legislative session, although its funding was gutted. Besides acknowledging the importance of the “Social Security Disability Application Assistance” statute by preserving it, state legislators also kept a mental health task force in place to help guide their decisions, especially as regards Coloradans with mental illness in the correctional and juvenile justice systems. The move underscores the willingness of legislators to be guided by medical research and scientific evidence in their lawmaking.