Guv signs bills aimed at keeping mental health patients out of jail

Rural jails won’t have to keep mental health patients for very long under a bill signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper this week.

That measure, SB207, is the result of long discussions prompted by a governor’s veto last year. The effort was aimed at making sure mental health patients arrested by law enforcement don’t spend too much time in jail.

Last year’s effort, SB169, was vetoed by Hickenlooper because of due process concerns. It dealt with giving medical professionals the authority to detain mental health patients for 72 hours even if it was against their will.

As a result of that veto, a 30-member task force met numerous times and came out with recommendations as to how to address the issue, which was leading to overcrowded jails and traumatized mental health patients.

“This bill is a huge step toward removing the stigma associated with mental health crises,” said Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, a sponsor of this year’s bill and last year’s effort. “We want people to know that a crisis is not a crime, and that they can get the help they need in times of emergency.”

This year’s measure commits about $7 million a year to beef up the state’s coordinated behavioral health crisis system, which, among other things, is to designate specific locations for law enforcement to take them.

The measure not only helps the patients, but also law enforcement, said Cooke, a former Weld County sheriff.

“Relieving pressure on law enforcement and guaranteeing every Coloradan that we will not turn our backs on them in their darkest moments when they need our help the most will help ensure that all of our communities are stronger and safer,” the senator said.

In other matters, the governor is to sign a measure today during his trip to the Grand Valley that will extend the repeal date of the Colorado Economic Development Commission.

SB280, a measure partly sponsored by Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, keeps the commission around until its next sunset review in 2025, when most state boards and commissions are subject to give the Legislature a chance to see if they are still useful.

Among the commission’s duties is to dole out special grants to help boost economic development around the state, such as the Rural Jump-Start Tax Credit Program that has helped bring startup businesses to the Grand Junction area.


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