In a remarkable turn of events in the final hours of the session, the House and Senate passed a bill that married a House bill on competency and a Senate Bill on mental health together.
It appropriated $92.7 million to fund mental health programs and initiatives. (Download Spread sheet here: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/Fiscal/Download/3436)
It passed the Senate 66-0 and the House 68-60.
The House portion of the bill centered on the problem of what happens when someone is deemed incompetent to stand trial but for some reason is not immediately civilly committed to a state mental hospital. There have been some notorious cases around the country and in Minnesota where someone is awaiting trial or a competency hearing and while that is happening, they harm themselves or others. These so-called "gap cases" have become a problem for County Prosecutors and the Courts. See this KARE 11 news report.
The bill would appropriate $10.1 million in the 2024-25 biennium to district courts to pay for additional competency examination costs.
It would also create a State Competency Restoration Board in the judicial branch and fund it with $22.3 million beginning in the 2024-25 biennium to hire and oversee “forensic navigators,” who are supposed to direct services to criminal defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Some spending highlights:
- $10.2 million in fiscal year 2025 and thereafter for adult mental health initiative grants;
- $9.6 million total in fiscal years 2024-25 for grants for adult mobile crisis services. This is a growing area of concern for local public safety and would support first responders in crisis situations.
- $2 million in fiscal year 2023 for school-linked behavioral health grants for students who are not insured for mental health treatment;
- $2 million in fiscal year 2023 for shelter-linked youth mental health grants;
- $1.6 million in fiscal year 2023 for educational loan forgiveness for mental health professionals;
- $1.2 million in fiscal year 2023 for a mental health urgency room pilot program; and
- $1 million in fiscal year 2023 for a grant for a licensed community mental health center specializing in services for African American children and families.
The bill also expedited the transition of the former St. Joseph's hospital in Saint Paul, now closed, to a 144-licensed bed freestanding mental health hospital.
There is no doubt that mental health is a serious issue and the "gap cases" present danger for our communities, law enforcement, and the courts, but a hasty, pasted together bill with broad powers for the courts to forcibly medicate individuals without a hearing needed more scrutiny and discussion than it recieved this year. For this reason, our members voted no. We must now wait and see what unintended consequences these broad policies have, which will no doubt come back to the legislature to fix. We think $92.7 million is just the beginning of what it will cost to fully fund the system being created here.
Correction made to the potential number of beds in the new mental health hospital --6/8/2022