Lawmakers Advance Mental-Health First-Aid Bill

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Bethany Barnes of Arizona-Sonora News Service reports on a state bill to fund programs for mental-health first aid, a program that has been championed by Congressman Ron Barber at the federal level.

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Two Tucson lawmakers are hoping their bipartisan bill will help Arizonans be more attune to the mental health needs of their community.

HB 2570 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday and would take $250,000 from the general fund to expand the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Mental Health First Aid program.

The program runs 12-hour training sessions to help the public to understand and assist people with mental illness. The training is often free and is similar to taking a CPR class, according to the Department of Health Services’ website.

The Tucson Police Department came out in support of the bill. TPD Sgt. Jim Kirk compared the program to neighborhood watch efforts, which he said were a great help when he was a burglary sergeant.

The bill came out of conversations that the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) and Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson), had when running against one another. Orr and Steele both live less than a mile from the Safeway where former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. The two started talking and realized what they had in common, Orr said.

Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) said he was pleased to hear the bill, noting that it “is a critical part of the overall education process,” that is needed for mental health.

Kavanagh said the bill pairs nicely with two of his own bills, HB 2555 AND HB 2618, both of which have passed out of committee.

HB 2555 would require health care providers and teachers to report patients or students that are a danger to themselves or others, while HB 2618 would require officers be trained on how to recognize and respond to someone who is seriously mentally ill.

Steele said she is hopeful that the bipartisan support will continue.

“We know that prevention and treatment work. We know we can prevent further deaths,” Steele said, adding that just about a year ago her friend shot herself in the head.

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