Student-drafted mental health bill poised to become law

Bill to see Senate debate this week


A bill written by University students is set to be discussed in the Virginia Senate Thursday. The bill increases student education about mental health and aims to make them more aware of the resources available to them.

A bill drafted by a group of University students which would require schools to better disclose mental health resources passed the Virginia House of Delegates with unanimous consent earlier in the month. It was referred to the Senate Education Committee last week and will be discussed Thursday.

Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is the Senate patron for the bill.

“I heard about it as an effort between two U.Va. students of different parties who work together,” Ebbin said. “I thought it was a great idea … [and] I think it’s going to pass.”

The bill, HB 206, aims to educate college students on mental health resources provided in four-year public universities. Students would be required to take an online interactive module on mental health and an assessment on the content of the module — a process similar to the alcohol education module students are required to complete the beginning of their first semester at the University. Public institutions of higher education in Virginia would also be required to create and feature a website listing all available mental health resources provided.

University organization Legislators of Tomorrow drafted and presented the bill in December of last year. Since then, it has received unanimous approval in the House Courts of Justice committee and subcommittee before it passed on the House floor in a 99-0 vote Feb. 11.

“It’s an easy solution that hopefully will bridge [the gap between] treatment that is available and people actually getting help,” said Hannah Bondurant, a third-year College student who helped draft the bill.

Bondurant said a combination of recent events has pushed mental health to the forefront of legislative and political discussions. The issue received a significant amount of attention last fall following the attack on Del. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, by his son Gus Deeds, who stabbed his father multiple times before killing himself with a rifle. It was subsequently discovered Gus was released from an emergency custody order for psychiatric evaluation after no bed in a psychiatric ward could be found for him.

“Mental illness often manifests itself during the college years,” said Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington. “Virginia’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to provide the necessary education that could ultimately lead to life-saving treatment.”

Hope was the chief patron for the bill in the House.

The bill was recently assigned to the Senate Education subcommittee, and Bondurant said it is on the docket for Thursday morning.

The bill has received tremendous support from both parties. Hope and Del. Joseph Yost, R-Radford — the two patrons for the bill in the House — reached across the aisle to present the legislation.

“Both sides respond to that [the bill] because it’s humanitarian more than bipartisan,” Bondurant said.

Ebbin, who recently announced his intent to run for Congress in 2014 to replace long-time 8th District Rep. Jim Moran, echoed this sentiment.

“It’s something [both parties] should work together on,” he said.

If the bill passes the Senate, it will take effect July 1, 2015.

Published February 24, 2014 in FP test, News

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