March 27, 2015
Yesterday the SC Senate granted a second reading of the bill S.426, the Mental Health Court Program Act, allowing it to move further into the legislation process. The vote was 40-0 in favor of passing the bill. This is a major step in getting this bill passed in the SC Senate! The bill will be going to a third reading in the Senate probably sometime next week, and after that, it will move on to the House of Representatives. This is an exciting time, and it’s thanks to everyone who contacted their senators to tell them to push forward with this bill.
Now we will need to begin to push forward this bill in the SC House of Representatives so that they will be aware of how the Mental Health Court Program Act will benefit the state, and for them to support it! You can find your local house members by clicking here–we will have more information on this soon. Thank you to everyone again for your support on this bill! SC is moving forward to mental health reform!
Currently, three mental health courts operate in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Grants for their operation ran out years ago but they have continued to operate, officials say. Two other courts have closed in recent years due to lack of funding.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Paton Blough, a Greenville mental health advocate who proposed the bill last year. “It’s a bill that I believe will save lives, make the community safer and save taxpayers money.”
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, asked the Senate afterward to thank Blough for his work on the bill.
Sheheen’s bill doesn’t include funding but he has said he hopes to eventually find money in the budget to assist the courts.
The bill was amended to prohibit participation by violent offenders and to require that victims be notified when offenders enter the program.
The legislation does not mandate mental health courts but instead creates a statewide program with the provision that solicitors who accept state dollars for such courts must create them within six months.
“It is purely optional for the solicitors,” Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, told the Senate.
The programs under the bill are operated by each judicial circuit’s solicitor but allows those already in existence that might be operated by a probate judge under a prior court order to continue.
The State Senate voted 40-0 in favor of a bill Thursday that could expand mental health courts across the state.
Mental health courts divert those with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system.
Mental health advocate Paton Blough went through the program and has been pushing for this bill.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and I’m just so thankful to see all the senators working together to get meaningful legislation passed that will help save lives,” Blough said. “To be a part of it just feels overwhelming.”
Senators have also been passionate about getting this bill passed.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen said after seeing the current system for patients with mental illness, he wanted a change.
“Folks who were just mentally ill were just locked up for months at a time,” Sen. Sheehen said. “When I saw that kind of human tragedy, I looked for a solution, and I saw that in some few counties, mental health courts have been making a difference. This bill will allow mental health courts to be established in every community in South Carolina.”
The bill will now be read in the Senate for final approval, which is expected to take place next Tuesday. Following that, the the bill will head to the House of Representatives.