April 20, 2017 08:00 AM

Talks with mental health advocates on bill provisions led to decision

Opelousas Rep. Dustin Miller pulled his HB395 from consideration by the House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday to allow time to confer with mental health advocates on provisions in the bill.

The bill would revise the judicial process leading to involuntary mental health treatment. Miller says he authored the bill at the request of the Louisiana Department of Health, which has been the target of lawsuits by mental health advocates because of the lack of inpatient treatment beds and services in the state.

Rep. Dustin Miller
Photo by Robin May

“The bill calls for LDH to be involved in judicial commitment hearings since the department will have the responsibility of identifying the appropriate treatment and the appropriate place for that treatment to be delivered,” Miller says. “Having LDH involved in the process will enable the department to better understand the patient’s condition and needs as well as give it a clearer picture of the demand for services that it faces.”

Miller, who is a nurse, spoke with The Independent by phone on Wednesday afternoon, after he pulled the bill from consideration. He says he intends to bring it back before the committee next week, after consulting with representatives of a number of mental health advocacy groups who have questions about some aspects of the bill.

The bill would extend the time the state has to respond to an order of commitment from 120 days to 180. It would also enable LDH and the person seeking the commitment order to have the court convene a closed hearing where the condition of the person at the center of the effort could be ascertained through the presentation of evidence, and the calling and cross examination of witnesses.

The bill would also require the court to consult with LDH prior to stipulating an order of commitment if LDH is not a party in the hearing.

Miller says he is not certain how many cases would be affected by his bill. He says his primary intent is to create greater interaction between the courts and LDH so that the department can better respond to judicial commitments.

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