Behavioral health bill passes -- at a significantly lower spending level

Apr 21, 2017

Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo).
Credit ND Legislature

Senate Minority Leader Joan Hecakaman (D-New Rockford).
Credit ND Legislature

A behavioral health bill that originally called for $28 million in spending has now passed the Legislature – but at a significantly reduced spending level.

A House-Senate conference committee agreed to $350,000.

"This is a significantly smaller number than we would like to have," said Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), the chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee. "There's no doubt about that."

Lee said at least this will help start a pilot program with the schools for early childhood intervention.

"That's very important," Lee told the Senate. "And it's also important to have peer-to-peer and family-to-family support."

Lee said the bill does not fund a “targeted case management” program for children, as the interim study proposed. She said the state has "well over 1000 children" with serious mental illness whose needs will not be addressed because the money wasn't found to do it.

"If we can't put in $7 million, we really can't do it," Lee said.

However, she said it's a start.

"We're glad to have that seed planted," Lee said. "So we need to nurture it in the next two years. We will have some limited data available, and hopefully we will be able to expand as our resources permit."

"This is a painful vote I'm going to cast today in favor of this bill," said Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman (D-New Rockford). "To know we needed $28 million and we're at $350,000 is a sour pill to swallow. But I will swallow it today."

The bill passed the Senate 45 - 2. It had earlier cleared the House, and is on its way to Gov. Burgum.