According to the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, a nonprofit organization, Texas ranks dead last among states in per capita mental health funding.
Speaking at a news conference at the organization’s conference center in west Houston, Congressman Turner says after deep cuts in the past, there is a mental health crisis in Texas. Turner is vice chair of the Texas House Appropriations Committee.
“We are proposing an unprecedented level of funding for mental health services in this state and recommend in this upcoming legislative session that the Legislature appropriates at least $250 million for the biennium for mental health care for the next biennium, next two years.”
Turner says the proposal counters an additional $1.2 million reduction for community mental health services proposed for the upcoming legislative session. He says the money is needed to help people with mental health issues stay off the streets and out of jail.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia agrees. He says the county jail has too often been called the state’s largest mental health institution.
“We are not mental health clinicians. We need to leave that job to the professionals. But when those professionals aren’t given the resources to do their job, then we are doing everyone ... everyone a disservice by asking law enforcement to take the front line to this particular issue.”
He says more money can be saved if law enforcement doesn’t have to deal with mental health issues.
Turner says he wants to prevent another tragedy like the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“While we argue on gun laws I think all of us ought to be able to agree that we have a mental health crisis which will only get worse by the day. Let us not wait for another child or adult to die before we in Texas decide that we need to act.”
Although that’s not the only reason for his proposal, he says it’s what makes people pay attention to an issue that’s been there long before school shootings.
“What Connecticut has done is drawn attention to the fact that there are people within our society who have mental health illnesses that sometimes commit some very heinous crimes with very tragic consequences. So that’s the reality.”
Turner, who is a Democrat, says his proposal has bipartisan support, although there may be disagreement about the dollar amount.