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Legislators revisit mental health services

A proposed joint subcommittee stands at the center of a clearly defined focus on mental health services in Virginia less than two months after tragedy shook the state capital.

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Dist. 25), whose son was treated for bipolar tendencies before stabbing his father and killing himself, is the chief patron of Senate Joint Resolution 47, which seeks to establish a nine-person subcommittee to study the mental health services in the commonwealth.

The joint resolution is one of at least 60 mental health-related bills proposed thus far during the 2014 session, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Virginia state chapter. Though the latest flurry of mental health initiatives promises to bring change to the lives of thousands of Virginia citizens, skepticism doesn’t come unwarranted.

Del. Ken Plum (D-Dist. 36), the co-patron of the bill, says that Virginia’s mental health services fail to measure up to other state systems nationally.

After former Gov. Bob McDonnell pledged $38 million expand mental health programs in December, Plum says he thinks the governor’s reactionary budget move might expose an alarming trend in the commonwealth’s commitment to mental health services.

“It needed to have been done anyway,” Plum said. “We wait for tragedy sometimes to bring us to the point of doing something.”

This isn’t the first time Virginia has seen sudden spikes in legislative consideration for mental health services. Similar attention was directed toward the subject six years ago when the General Assembly authorized $42 million for health care reform in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

However, legislators retracted $37.7 million of that funding within a two-year period, according to NAMI Virginia, and subsequent budget issues have helped hinder any large-scale reform efforts since.

Virginia ranks ninth in the country for spending on hospital-based care, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Providers, but ranks 39th in spending on community-based care for services that assist in stability and recovery.

— Colin Kennedy, Capital News Service

Virginia localities seek stormwater program delay

Some local governments want the General Assembly to delay the July 1 deadline for establishing local stormwater runoff programs by one year.

In November, the members of the Virginia Association of Counties, which represents all 95 counties of Virginia, voted unanimously for the one-year delay.

Larry Land, the director of policy development for VACo, stated in an email the Department of Environmental Quality — which runs the current stormwater program for the state — determined in August 2013 that localities would inherit all existing renewal permits for stormwater runoff.

Land stated renewal fees filed between April and June 2014 would be remitted to DEQ instead of localities.

“DEQ has not established any procedure to send fee revenues to localities,” Land stated.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group, opposes the delay.

Chuck Epes, assistant director of media relations for the Richmond office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, stated in an email CBF’s top priority is to “hold the bay states accountable for meeting deadlines, goals, etc.”

Epes says the commonwealth has provided $35 million in funding this year to help localities establish the programs.

Stormwater runoff management is a key Chesapeake Bay conservation issue. According to CBF, stormwater becomes polluted as it flows from streets, parking lots and roofs. As the water travels, it becomes contaminated by pollutants and enters waterways that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

The General Assembly voted for the July 1, 2014, deadline for the new programs in 2012.

Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the DEQ, says the state will be responsible for approving the local plans and making sure local governments meet all requirements.

— Kate Miller, Capital News Service