Iowa House approves broad mental health reform


DES MOINES — The Iowa House unanimously backed legislation that will expand and improve Iowans’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services and send a message that “mental health care matters,” according to the bill’s manager, Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta.

House File 2456, approved Tuesday 96-0, was described as a starting point by various representatives.

“We needed to start somewhere because we were in the negative zone,” Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said. She called the bill “a true mental health reform movement.”

Brown-Powers and others pointed out the bill does not go far enough in addressing children’s mental health issues and warned that without adequate funding the legislation will not yield the desired results.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration wants to make Iowa the healthiest state, but that “cannot be accomplished by continuing to ignore and continuing to underfund our mental services and substance abuse treatment programs,” Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, said.

The bill has a broad scope, dealing with commitments, licensing of subacute mental health facilities, disclosure of mental health issues to law enforcement, video conferencing of hospitalization hearings, transportation service contracts, mental health and disability services quarterly reports, regional core services, reduction of fund balances from mental health regions, commitment process report and a tertiary care psychiatric hospitals report.

It will build on Iowa’s community-based mental health system and decrease fragmentation of services to improve care, Lundgren said.


The only note of discord in the bipartisan march to approving the mental health changes was Staed’s call for adding extreme risk protection orders to the bill. The restraining orders would allow families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual is threatening harm to themselves or others.

However, Staed said House GOP leadership had threatened to indefinitely postpone debate on the bill if he pursued his amendment. To show his “100 percent support for the bill, he withdrew the amendment.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, called Staed’s claim “ridiculous.”

“That’s flat-out wrong,” he said. “This is an agreed to bipartisan bill. We were going to run this bill one way or another.” The amendment likely would have been ruled not germane to the bill, Hagenow added.

Although the bill is “one of the most comprehensive mental health bills in Iowa,” Lundgren agreed with others that “the work is never done.”

Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, challenged representatives to turn their attention to mental health services for children.

“I hope that will be the next phase we work on because currently about 79 percent of children go without mental treatment,” she said. “That’s definitely an area this body needs to work on.”

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