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Posted at 10:17 a.m. on May 25, 2014
Elliot Rodger — the man accused by police of committing a massacre Friday night in California — sparked a renewed call to pass a mental health bill in Congress.
“Our hearts break for the victims and families affected by the tragedy near Santa Barbara. We pray for their souls to find peace. But I am also angered because once again, our mental health system has failed and more families have been destroyed because Washington hasn’t had the courage to fix it,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.
“How many more people must lose their lives before we take action on addressing cases of serious mental illness?”
Murphy says he has a solution: He calls his bill the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.”
“Washington must take action on my bill,” he said.
Murphy, a clinical psychologist, said in a statement Saturday that he will hold a briefing Thursday on his committee’s report on mental health, written over the course of a year following the Newtown, Conn., massacre.
Among the report’s findings are a push to give law enforcement and emergency medical personnel better training on mental health.
Murphy says his bill would also expand access to psychiatric treatment.
It would also encourage states to set a new standard for committing people — that they need treatment, not that they present an imminent danger. It would also make it easier for family members to take action.
Elliot Rodger’s family had reached out to police after he posted disturbing YouTube videos, according to news reports. But police who interviewed Rodger, the son of a Hollywood director, declined to commit him for treatment.
The bill has 86 cosponsors, including 50 Republicans and 36 Democrats.
A rival bill by Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., one of the most endangered Democrats in the House, would focus on broader mental health issues rather than focus on the severely mentally ill.
As he told CQ Roll Call earlier this month:
“I know how this system works and I know that if you’re talking about severe or serious mental illness, it can start at any age,” said Barber, who was among the injured in 2011 after a gunman opened fire on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others. “The best thing we can do is early identification and treatment — that’s what prevents people from becoming more severely involved.”
A spokesman for Murphy had ripped the Democratic bill’s approach told CQ Roll Call as “a placebo” that would maintain the status quo.
Barber’s bill, the Strengthening Mental Health in Our Communities Act, has four cosponsors.
The mental health bills have another advantage that might give it a better shot in Congress — they avoid the politically charged issue of guns.
A Senate package of mental health bills was included in the gun background checks measure that fell to a GOP-led filibuster last year.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders have repeatedly talked about dealing with the issue of mental health in the wake of massacres, including Newtown.