Gov. Jared Polis was busy this week signing bills into laws aimed at helping Coloradans get help with their mental health when they need it.
Thursday at a ceremony at Children’s Hospital Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Polis signed Senate Bill 195 to improve the state’s behavioral health system for kids, alongside the legislation's sponsors: Sens. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs; as well as Reps. Meg Froelich, D-Centennial, and Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain.
“The gaps in our state’s mental health system won’t be solved over night, but together we are taking a big step toward a more comprehensive system to support our kids,” Fields said in a statement. “We need to continue to make youth mental health a top priority -- the time for change is now.”
The bill creates the Office of Children and Youth Behavioral Health Policy Coordination within the governor's office to coordinate mental and behavioral health resources statewide. It also creates a commission to study coordinating those services, and the new law standardizes screening and assessments doctors use to identify behavioral problems in kids.
Children’s Hospital said suicide is the leading cause of death for those from 10 to 24 years old in Colorado, noting that 1 in 6 teenagers has a diagnosable mental health condition.
“We have a suicide crisis in our state,” Polis said in a statement. “Colorado needs to do a better job serving those struggling with mental health. It’s time we work together as a state to implement bold solutions to address this crisis. I’m proud to sign SB-195, which improves mental health access for children and teens in need of help, into law today as one of the many ways we’re working to transform our mental health system for kids.”
Polis also signed House Bill 1269 to address loopholes in behavioral health insurance coverage. The bill was sponsored in the House by Democratic Reps. Lisa Cutter of Evergreen and Tom Sullivan of Centennial.
“It’s time we start treating mental health the same as physical health, getting people the treatment they need, and working towards removing the stigma around mental health issues,” Cutter said in a statement.
Added Sullivan: “We can’t wait any longer to help improve access to mental health in our communities.”
Polis also signed House Bill 1120 sponsored by Democratic Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet of Commerce City and Dylan Roberts of Avon, to help address youth suicide, mostly by lowering the age at which a person can independently seek mental health aid from 15 to 12.
“A youth mental health epidemic is unfolding before our eyes and until now, the state has been unable to adequately invest in solutions. Under this new law, Colorado’s kids will be able to access the help they so desperately need. It could save a life,” said Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “The children of our state want more access to mental health resources and we are working to deliver.”
The bill was sponsored in the upper chamber by Sens. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Don Coram, R-Montrose.
Besides new laws, Polis last month announced the formation of the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force — a group tasked with evaluating Colorado’s existing systems and then setting a road map for the state’s behavioral health efforts including a focus on children and youth.
On Tuesday, Polis was in Pueblo to sign Senate Bill 65, legislation sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum Sr. of Colorado Springs and Senate President Leroy Garcia to create a peer-to-peer mental health assistance program for EMS paramedics.
Exum is a retired battalion chief in the Colorado Springs Fire Department, and Garcia paramedic with American Medical Response in Pueblo.
“Being an EMS paramedic is one of the most stressful jobs out there,” Exum stated. “This new law will open doors for emergency medical providers to peer assistance when they are going through challenges in their life and are not able to perform their duties. This law puts a focus on mental health and can help ensure Colorado’s EMS workers are in the best shape physically and mentally to help save lives and respond to a crisis.”
Polis also signed House Bill 1287 to address opioid abuse in southern Colorado with an Internet-based system to track available capacity at behavioral health treatment facilities. The bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida, with Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.
“There are significant barriers for individuals who are seeking treatment and want to be in recovery. This bill will give them the tools to break down these barriers,” Esgar said in a staterment. “People often encounter barriers when trying to access treatment to overcome their addiction.
"This new, bipartisan law puts a system in place that is ready to help Coloradans navigate treatment and recovery options and a system that works for everyone involved.”