A House committee Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of advancing a sweeping mental health reform bill.
The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act passed 53-0 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is now going to the full House floor. The bill aims to improve mental health services and was first introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) a year after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings that killed 26, including 20 children.
The bill proposes an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders at HHS to promote mental health services and coordinate programs across different agencies. It would also require psychiatric hospitals to establish discharge plans and provide additional beds for short-term care.
In an emotional speech to the committee floor following the vote, Murphy said, “We declare a new dawn of hope for the care of those with mental illness … delivering evidence-based treatment is how we finally conquer stigma surrounding mental illness, and this bipartisan bill transforms the federal government's approach to mental health.”
Murphy said the bill will save lives by providing treatment to the mentally ill who might have access to firearms.
The vote comes after months of objections from Democrats who claimed Murphy was unwilling to negotiate or consider their suggestions.
Advocates, however, continued to push for bill consideration, saying reform could come from unprecedented bipartisan support.
"I think everyone recognized this isn't the sort of problem we could play politics with," said John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. "We ended up with a bill that takes into account the scope of mental illness."
The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is just one piece of mental health reform legislation under consideration. The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 passed a Senate committee in March. But Republicans have rejected Democratic efforts to attach funding to the bill.
Other reform measures have also been stymied by gun ownership amendments. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wants states to share more mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Democrats have said Cornyn's bill would actually make it easier for people with severe mental illness to acquire guns.