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A panel of lawmakers reviewing treatment of those with mental health disorders in the criminal justice system on Wednesday voted to advance a full slate of five bills, including measures on those found not guilty by reason of insanity, pretrial diversion programs, emergency mental health holds and housing.

The Treatment of Persons with Mental Health Disorders in the Criminal Justice System headed into its final meeting of the year needing to trim the 10 bills it authorized for drafting down to five. That’s the total that can be submitted by a panel working during the legislative interim to Legislative Council, the committee that vets the legal implications and other factors before bills can be introduced.

Two of those 10 drafts were withdrawn ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, while the committee’s members volunteered to withdraw three more.

Included in that trio were two from Boulder Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile: one seeking to make changes to the procedures for when a defendant is found incompetent to proceed that she said a different interim panel with more cash backing was willing to take up, and a second that would create statewide jail standards that Amabile said was broader than the panel’s purview. The Boulder Democrat said she would run the jail standards bill on her own during the next legislative session.

Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, also nixed  his proposal that sought to create a grant program aimed at funding regional “triage centers” where law enforcement can take those experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Earlier in the meeting, Mental Health Colorado expressed concern the triage facilities would have a “disjointed” fit with other facilities in the state that largely serve the same purpose.

“I am totally committed to the concept and the idea, I think the legislature will be better served by vetting this process more comprehensively at a different place at a different time in a different forum,” Lee said.

 The remaining bills were all passed with bipartisan support by the panel’s four Democrats and two Republicans.

Of the five, the bill that drew the most discourse from the committee members and witnesses who testified in the early stages of the hearing was another from Amabile that focused on procedures for when a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The bill includes a requirement that those people,  who are committed to DHS under current law, are evaluated within 30 days to determine if they require inpatient hospitalization or are eligible for a conditional release. The bill would also set a limit on  how long those found not guilty by reason of insanity can be committed by DHS.

The bill’s fiscal note, which carried a $19 million price tag in its first year and subsequently would cost nearly $23 million per year, was a concern, though fiscal analysts told the panel a pair of amendments it approved would likely bring down the overall cost by a sizable amount without a significant effect on the policy.

Along with Amabile’s bill, the other four approved by the committee include:

  • A bill from committee Chair Adrienne Benavidez, D-Denver, focusing on the administration of the committee. If passed, it would broaden the scope of the panel by changing the focus from mental health to behavioral health, adjust the membership of the associated task force and allow those members to do research on behalf of the committee, and push back the repeal date of the new provisions until July 2027
  • A proposal from Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, to expand the scope of a pretrial diversion program for adults by combining it with a pilot diversion program set to expire next year for those behavioral health disorders
  • A measure from Benevidez seeking to lower the threshold for an emergency 72-hour mental health hold to include those who appear to present a substantial risk of harm to self or others and those appear to have a mental health disorder or be gravely disabled;
  • A effort from Lee to create grant programs and expand duties at the Division of Housing in an effort to expand housing capacity for those with behavioral health or substance abuse issues as well as those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

Legislative Council is scheduled to meet Nov. 15 to review legislation coming out of interim committees.

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