The mission of NAMI Colorado is to build communities of recovery and hope by educating, supporting and advocating for individuals affected by mental illness and thier families.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. It is dedicated to helping millions of Americans affected by mental illnesses by educating, shaping public policy, and leading public awareness events to destigmatize mental illness. NAMI Colorado is dedicated to building better lives for the 250,000 plus Coloradans and their families who are affected by any number of mental illnesses - schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder and others. NAMI Colorado supported, monitored, or opposed 24 bills that would influence the realm of mental health this legislative session. 63% of the bills NAMI Colorado supported passed. Legislation affecting Colorado’s mental health ranged from direct health care policy and access to education programs and criminal justice reform. This paper provides a summary of NAMI Colorado’s involvement and bill outcome summaries for this year.
NAMI Colorado supported many successful bills that improve health care access for Coloradans regardless of age, health challenges they experience, and where they live by eliminating policy barriers and promoting the health care workforce capacity.
HB15-1032: This bill updates the definition of professional persons allowed to provide mental health care to minors. It specifies that licensed social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, and addiction counselors can render mental health services to minors. This bill was signed on 3/20/2015.
HB15-1067: This bill creates a continuing education program for licensed psychologists to improve skills such as suicide prevention and trauma-informed care. This is important because currently, psychologists are the only mental health professionals in Colorado who do not have ongoing professional development requirements. This bill was proposed by The Colorado Psychological Association and has not faced opposition. This bill was signed 4/04/2015.
HB15-1214: This bill prohibits an opioid analgesic drug that is not an abuse deterrent to be substituted for an opioid analgesic drug that is an abuse deterrent when an individual is prescribed an abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drug. This bill was signed 5/11/2015.
SB15-015: This bill adds autism spectrum disorder to Colorado’s mental health parity law for the purpose of insurance coverage, beginning in 2017. It also repeals a provision that specifies autism is not to be treated as a mental illness for purposes of mental health care coverage. This change increases parents’ access to intensive childhood treatment, which can drastically improve a child’s long-term health and functioning. This bill was signed on 4/16/2015.
SB15-053: This bill allows licensed prescribers to dispense emergency medication for opiate-related overdoses to individuals who are at risk, their family members, first responders, and harm reduction specialists. This will increase access to lifesaving drugs to help decrease the growing numbers of overdose deaths and opiate misuse in Colorado. This bill was signed on 04/06/2015
ADVANCING PRIORITIES: FOCUSING ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
NAMI Colorado is increasingly focused on legislation surrounding children and youth mental health. This focus is driven by the knowledge that half of lifetime mental health conditions occur by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Attention to such issues, however, oftentimes is granted in the wake of high-profile tragedies, such as the Arapahoe High School shooting that resulted in the death of two students, including the suicide death of the shooter, in December 2013.
SB15-214: This bill established an interim committee that is tasked with examining ways to address school violence. This bill emphasizes the importance of building safe, understanding, and welcoming communities in Colorado schools, and promotes understanding that mental health conditions are not a cause for fear. The final draft of this bill does not contain language that equates youth who experience mental health issues as threats to school safety, and focuses on the need for youths in crisis to be addressed quickly and appropriately. This bill was signed on 6/03/2015.
HB15-1186: This bill increases the age limit for children receiving services under the autism waiver program from 6 years of age to 8 years of age. This bill was signed on 5/29/2015.
BUILDING GROUNDWORK FOR CHANGE
NAMI Colorado supported several pieces of legislation that did not make it through the legislative process this year. NAMI Colorado will continue to support these bills and work to advance these priorities for Colorado’s mental health.
HB15-1025: This bill establishes a juvenile-specific definition of “incompetent to proceed” for juveniles involved in the juvenile justice system. This bill did not pass; it died on the House Committee on Judiciary where all of the republicans voted against it and one democrat. The motion passed on a 7-6 vote.
HB15-1087: This bill creates alcohol and substance abuse medical detox centers pilot programs. The bill failed in the Appropriations Committee for lack of identified funding.
HB15-1175: This bill prohibits licensed mental health professionals from performing a harmful and scientifically discredited practice called “conversion therapy,” which seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, on individuals who are under 18 years old. This is important because some licensed persons in Colorado continue to perform conversion therapy on vulnerable youth, even though it has been widely discredited and rejected by the Psychiatric, Psychological, and Medical Associations. This bill did not pass; it died in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans & Military Affairs.
HB15-1264: This bill creates the Colorado Right to Rest Act, which grants homeless persons basic rights, such as the right to use, move freely, and rest in public spaces without discrimination. It was designed to grant homeless persons protection from unnecessary harassment by law enforcement officers, and faced stiff opposition from law enforcement and business interests. NAMI Colorado successfully advocated to include mental health treatment as a necessary component that will help combat homelessness. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass; it died in the House Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs.
HB15-1265: This bill requires issuance of new birth certificates if an individual changes gender designation. This bill would have made it easier for transgender individuals to change their gender on their birth certificates. This bill did not pass; it died in the first Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs on a party-line vote. Those who opposed this bill argued that it would create confusion and challenges in law enforcement investigations.
SB15-052: This bill requires that salary increases, bonuses, or any additional monetary benefits for employees of the Colorado health exchange must be approved by a review committee prior to their implementation. This bill did not pass; it died in the first House Committee on Health, Insurance, & Environment.
NAMI Colorado opposed legislation that would negatively influence the health, safety, and civil rights of Coloradans who experience mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
SB15-077: This bill would have established a parent’s bill of rights that sets forth specific parental rights related to education, health care, and mental health care of minor children. The original form of the bill would have required Colorado teens to obtain written parental consent before seeking confidential counseling or medical care. This mental health ran directly against NAMI’s position to support HB-1032, Mental Health Treatment for Minors. This legislation would have endangered youth during a critical period of development, especially considering that oftentimes youth seek help when they are experiencing problems with parents and family members. This bill would severely limit access to confidential counseling and care for minors, which is concerning given that the leading cause of death among Coloradans ages 10 to 35 is suicide. This clause, however, was removed from the final version of the bill. This bill did not pass; it died in the House Committee on Public Health Care & Human Services.
SB15-213: This bill amends the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) to recognize that public school districts, charter schools, and their employees have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect students, faculty, staff, and others from harm from reasonably foreseeable acts committed by another person. The bill also amends the CGIA to waive sovereign immunity in connection with claims against public school districts and charter schools in an action for serious bodily injury or death. This bill, unfortunately, passed with bipartisan support, despite strong concerns from education and mental health advocacy groups. These groups are concerned that the bill does not articulate the threshold for reasonable care, which could result in subjective and varying interpretations by the court. They also are concerned that if any student engages in behavior that is deemed a safety issue, the school will have no choice but to suspend or expel him/her, which could inhibit his/her learning and care. There was also concern that this bill will shut down small schools that do not have the funds to handle the increased legal responsibilities, liabilities, and costs.
INCREASING STANDARDS IN MENTAL HEALTH
NAMI Colorado supported a number of bills that will increase standards for health care practitioners, prescription drugs, and reports of abuse.
HB15-1187: This bill authorizes veterinarians to be subject to mental health evaluations if they face disciplinary actions, or if there is reason to believe a licensed veterinarian is unable to practice veterinary medicine with reasonable skill and safety to their patients due to a mental illness or condition or excessive use of substances. This bill was signed on 5/08/2015.
HB15-1214: This bill prohibits an opioid analgesic drug that is not abuse deterrent to be substituted for an opioid analgesic drug that this abuse deterrent when an individual is prescribed an abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drug. This bill was signed 5/11/2015.
HB-1359: This bill creates a saving program for persons with disabilities by authorizing a collegeinvest authority to establish a better life experience (ABLE) saving program. This bill was signed on 6/03/2015.
SB15-019: This bill allows the state auditor to conduct a performance audit of the Colorado health benefit exchange and submit a written report to the legislative audit committee with any findings. This bill was signed on 4/03/2015.
SB15-109: This bill expands the requirement to report abuse or exploitation for an individual who is 18 years of age or older, increasing the list of mandatory reporters of at-risk adult abuse. It received bipartisan support in both chambers and passed on 6/05/2015).