Senate Joint Resolution 42, introduced by Senator L. Louise Lucas during the 2008 General Assembly Session, was amended to request that the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) complete a two-year study regarding “the impact of certain recommendations and legislation on the mental health system in the Commonwealth." The JCHC study requested in SJR 42 was undertaken by the Commission’s Behavioral Health Care Subcommittee.
The tragic Virginia Tech incident in April 2007 brought increased attention to the weaknesses in Virginia’s mental health system. Reviews were undertaken by such entities as the Virginia Tech Review Panel and the Office of the Inspector General for Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services. Moreover, the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform (established in 2006 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia) accelerated its timetable to examine issues related to the civil commitment process. In response to the findings and recommendations of these reviews, significant new funding and statutory changes were introduced during both the 2008 and the 2009 Sessions of the General Assembly. The legislative changes enacted during the 2008 Session were described as “the most sweeping reforms in mental health law since the 1970s" addressing such issues as adult commitment criteria, procedural requirements, disclosure and privacy provisions, and commitment procedures for minors. In addition, nearly $42 million in new funding was appropriated to support reform efforts. (Source: Mental Health Law Reform: Overview of the 2008 General Assembly Action presented by Jane D. Hickey, Office of the Attorney General.) During the 2009 Session, additional statutory revisions were enacted; expanding advance medical directives to address mental illness, authorizing transportation by non-law enforcement providers during the commitment process, and allowing for additional crisis stabilization teams.
During its two-year study, JCHC’s Behavioral Health Care Subcommittee heard from representatives of the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform; community services boards; the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services; physicians; sheriffs; and special justices regarding both enacted and proposed statutory changes. Given the breadth and import of the legislative activity that was undertaken, Subcommittee members chose not to introduce additional legislation.
In October 2009, JCHC members approved a request for JCHC to provide an “umbrella of oversight" for a proposed 2010 study of mental health issues in higher education. The study will be “coordinated with the State Council on Higher Education and the Department of Education as well as the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform."
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