Tuesday, June 28, 2022|
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Progress can be slow to reach the halls of the state Capitol, so we are glad to see Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan treat mental health care as a priority in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre.
Any sincere legislative effort to prevent more school mass shootings has to address gun violence. But mental health is also a factor, and expanded access to care should be an easy consensus builder.
In a letter this week, Phelan laid out a $67 million investment in additional resources to improve Texas’ mental health system for children. Phelan said the budget for these measures can be drawn from a surplus in the main state program for funding Texas public schools.
The speaker’s mental health plan includes several proposals that we wrote about recently and that have broad support from Texas mental health care advocates. One of them is a telemedicine program that connects schools with university-based mental health and counseling professionals who can assist students with behavioral or mental health concerns, with their parents’ consent. The program is called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, and with its current annual budget of $25 million a year, it covers about 40% of the state. Phelan would increase that budget by $37.5 million.
His proposal also boosts funding for an array of therapy programs that rely on teams of professionals to provide care and keep children and teens stable. These programs serve young people experiencing mental health crises, psychosis and serious behavioral problems. We are hopeful that these programs would lessen reliance on hospitals and the foster care system by helping families manage children’s behavioral issues before they spiral out of control.
Still, Texas needs a sturdier psychiatric hospital system, and Phelan wants to add more pediatric beds with $30 million a year. His funding package also includes $33 million for school safety training, reviews and panic alert technology.
Now contrast this wide-ranging plan with the immediate solution proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Texas Senate: $50 million for bulletproof shields for police. Patrick indicated he’s also interested in door locks, metal detectors and intelligence-sharing about potential threats.
Of course lawmakers should discuss ways to physically protect schools. But they must remember that schools are centers for learning and growing, not jails and fortresses. Our leaders must resist a view of the world that treats mass shootings as an inevitable part of American life rather than a catastrophic intersection of circumstances that can be prevented.
That is why we urge state legislators to pay attention to a proposal in the U.S. Senate that would encourage states to pass “red flag” laws. The details of that proposal are pending, but we should all at least agree that there are people who are too unstable to have guns and that we should do what’s reasonable to block those people from obtaining firearms, lest they hurt themselves or others.
We are grateful for Phelan’s initiative on mental health, and we hope the speaker will show the same leadership in the debate over gun policy.
— The Dallas Morning News
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