Currie’s mental health bill lives again

Published 10:09 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

A bill that would establish mental health courts throughout the state made it out of committee Thursday, setting it up for a vote on the House floor next week.

A bill that would commit $1.8 million to fund the court system remains in the Appropriations committee.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, has pushed for the creation of mental health courts for at least four years. She envisions a court system for the mentally ill that operates similarly to drug court.

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“I’ve done a lot of work with the mentally ill and making sure they don’t stay in our jails and instead are going straight to the crisis centers. It has worked well in Brookhaven so far and other states doing this save millions. Just like our drug court, we would set up a mental health court,” she said previously about the bill.

The system would be set up through regional mental health centers and would have requirements like ensuring offenders are taking their medicine and following up with all appointments and treatments.

“If they don’t meet those requirements then a judge would determine whether they go to a state hospital or if they need to go to jail,” Currie said. “Our prisons are loaded with people who are mentally ill — some who maybe if they had the right treatment the taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for them being in prisons. It’s the next step in Mississippi in mental health reform. I think this would save us money in the long run and be better for Mississippians. And, it’s the humane thing to do.”

If the state had a mental health court system, it may have helped Randy Smith. Smith spent more than a year in the Lincoln County Jail while he awaited treatment for mental illness. He eventually was provided treatment at the state hospital last year.

“A judge could have sent him through mental health court,” Currie said Friday. “It would have also made sure that he took his medicine and attended his visits at Region 8, and stayed out of jail.”

“There’s a medical issue with him, not a criminal issue, but unfortunately when they don’t have a bed, they put them in jail, where they don’t need to be,” Sheriff Steve Rushing said about Smith’s case. “He has to have treatment, but until they get bed space to give him treatment, he’s stuck at the mercy of Whitfield.”

Smith had been arrested more than 35 times since 2004, with most of those charges being of the nuisance variety — public intoxication, disturbing the peace, failure to comply and resisting arrest.

Currie’s mental health courts bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

Other legislation

A bill that would authorize hospice directors to prescribe pain medication for terminally ill patients without having a face-to-face visit also made it out of committee Thursday. The bill, HB 1460, now goes to the full House for a vote.

Sen. Sally Doty’s bill that would include psychiatry students in the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Residency Program was kept alive Thursday. Under current law, only medical or osteopathic students are included. The program provides financial support for students who return to rural areas to practice medicine.

Doty’s SB 2752 made it out of committee Thursday. The measure defines criminal penalties for voyeurism. “Any person who enters upon real property, whether the original entry is legal or not, and thereafter pries or peeps through a window or other opening in a dwelling or other building structure for the lewd, licentious and indecent purpose of spying upon the occupants thereof, shall be guilty of a felonious trespass.”

It also lays out penalties for using a telescope, binoculars, camera, drone or other similar device to look at people in bedrooms, bathrooms, spas, dressing rooms and other private spaces. The penalty would be up to 5 years in jail, or 10 if the victim is under 16.