Yesterday, Mental Health Colorado released its 2021 Legislative Report, detailing the bills it pushed for during the Colorado Legislature’s 2021 session.
“Each policy priority positively impacts the well-being of our state and will help Colorado achieve healthier minds from one end of life to the other,” the report says.
The report contains a legislative scorecard, listing each state legislator’s vote on six key mental health bills passed during this session and assigning each elected official a score based on how many bills they voted ‘yes’ on.
The scorecard shows a striking partisan divide: while Democrats almost universally received perfect scores, Republicans struggled to keep up, with many GOP legislators voting ‘no’ even on bills with bipartisan sponsorship.
The difference is less pronounced, albeit still noticeable, in the state Senate. The five highest-ranked Republican state senators scored an 83%, having voted ‘yes’ on all but one of the six bills.
The odd one out: a bill titled “Regulation Of Restrictive Housing In Jails,” which bans local jails from placing mentally ill inmates and pregnant people, among others, in solitary confinement.
The bill was met with staunch opposition across the board, with every Republican — as well as two Democratic representatives, making them the only Democrats with a score below 100% — voting ‘no.’
“The practice of solitary confinement has detrimental impacts on individuals with health conditions such as mental health disorders and dementia,” the scorecard reads. “Multiple studies have shown that the psychological stress created from solitary is comparable to the distress of physical torture.”
Out of all GOP state senators, state Sens. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) and Chris Holbert (R-Parker) both scored the lowest: 50%, having voted ‘no’ on three of the six bills, including the aforementioned solitary confinement ban.
One of those bills was titled “Peer Support Professionals Behavioral Health.” The bill allocates money to peer support professional service programs for those struggling with mental health.
Mental Health Colorado defines peer support professionals as “individuals in recovery from mental health or substance use conditions who help others experiencing similar situations.”
“Data shows that peer support services cut hospitalizations in half, increase engagement in selfcare and well-being, and decrease psychotic symptoms,” the report notes.
The bill received bipartisan support and was sponsored by state Sens. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada) and Dennis Hisey (R-Fountain).
The other bill that Holbert and Lundeen voted against was titled “Behavioral Health Recovery Act.” Mental Health Colorado says that the bill “allocates money to a number of valuable mental health and substance use programs, improving access to quality care, supports, and services.”
Among Republican state representatives, the difference with their Democratic colleagues is much more dramatic. No GOP representative scored higher than 67%, with many scoring considerably lower. Four representatives scored a 17%, having voted against five of the six bills.
These four — state Reps. Mark Baisley (R-Roxborough Park), Patrick Neville (R-Douglas), Kim Ransom (R-Douglas), and Shane Sandridge (R-El Paso) — all voted in favor of only one bill, which was titled “Secure Transportation Behavioral Health Crisis.” The bill stipulates the development of alternative transportation for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
“In a mental health or substance use crisis, many Coloradans are transported by law enforcement in handcuffs or by ambulance. This dramatic and inappropriate response exacerbates crises and can be perceived as a public shaming of people with mental health and substance use conditions,” Mental Health Colorado explains. “[The bill] proposes a more appropriate, less costly response by creating a regulation to provide transportation services, different from patrol cars or traditional ambulance services, for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”
State Reps. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Colin Larson (R-Littleton) jointly sponsored the bill which received broad bipartisan support.
All Republican representatives voted ‘yes’ on this bill, with the exception of two: state Reps. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose) and Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs), who both received a 0% score on Mental Health Colorado’s scorecard.
Many have reported a rise in mental illness over the past year, especially due to the massive death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and the waves of police brutality across the nation. The Colorado GOP’s failure to create a united legislative front on mental health issues this year shows a disregard for the wellbeing of its constituents.
“As we move into a post-vaccine world, we are seeing a secondary pandemic of mental health and substance use concern, and we must be prepared to deal with the increased demand for care and support,” Mental Health Colorado says in its report. “These needs are reflected in our 2021 policy priorities.”