Currie: They are not criminals

Published 9:58 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

A bill authored by Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, could keep mentally ill patients out of jail if it passes a three-fifths vote of the House.

HB 489 establishes a mental health court.

“It’s one I’m very excited about,” said Currie, a registered nurse who represents District 92 in the House, serving Copiah, Lawrence and Lincoln counties. “It’s a bill that will work just like the drug courts.”

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Currie said she gets lots of calls from individuals who have loved ones suffering from mental illness that get in trouble with the law because they stop taking their prescription medicine. “I’m a registered nurse and these to me are patients, not criminals,” she said. “This will give them the opportunity to go before a judge and go before a mental health court.”

If the patient meets the judge’s requirements such as staying on schedule with medicine and meeting with mental health professionals regularly, that person can stay out of jail. “Our jails are loaded with people who are mentally ill and just got off their medicine,” she said. “This is a never ending process. It happens to every one of them. We don’t need to make them criminals and put them in jail.”

Currie said she has studied a similar mental health court in Louisiana that’s been running for three or four years. She said the state saved $36 million in costs to the Department of Corrections for anti-psychotic drugs that they didn’t have to distribute to patients in the jail system.

Other bills that made the cut past Tuesday’s deadline was House Bill 348, 1329 and 1447.

She authored House Bill 348 after a disturbing call from a mother. The woman’s child had been outside for PE before getting on the bus on a hot day and was not allowed to drink water. The bill would allow students to drink from a previously unopened bottle of water while on a school bus.

“The mother called and said, ‘It was 100 degrees and they weren’t allowed to bring water on the bus,’” Currie said.

Some schools allow it, but others don’t. The bill, if it passes, would make it OK in all of the public school districts. “You can’t put them in a tin can in 100 degree weather and not let them have water,” she said.

HB 1329 would create a children’s cabinet of people who could assess the organizations that serve children and the services that are provided using state, federal, local and private dollars and make sure none of the services are duplicated. Currie co-authored the bill.

“What they’re trying to do is make sure they have a list by organizations and see what services are provided by whom, then they can see if they’re duplicated services,” she said. They’ll also be able to see what areas might be lacking services.

A bill still alive in the House that died in committee in the Senate would amend a qualified resort area. The bill, if it becomes law, would allow Brookhaven Country Club to serve alcohol in the clubhouse, restaurant and on the 18 hole golf course. “It would make it a resort status so they can serve alcohol,” she said.

The bill passed through the house Wednesday and will now head to the Senate.

Currie also wrote a House Bill 905 which requires a uniform accounting system for all school districts for all of the local, state and federal funds. It amends the law to transfer the authority to conduct financial audits on school districts from the State Department of Audit to the state Department of Education.

Currie said this will allow lawmakers to see where the money they allocate to education are spent. “Once we give them the money from the state, and they get money from federal, and local, nobody knows where it’s been spent,” she said.

It’s just about accountability, efficiency and making sure tax dollars is being spent wisely. Currie wants to make sure the money school districts are spending is going where it’s needed, like in the classrooms and not administration, she said.

“We appropriate the money and we don’t really know where it goes,” she said.