Recapping the 2021 Legislative Session

Written by Alli Daley, PCMH Policy Director.

Since the pandemic, rates of mental health issues among children and youth have been rising at an alarming rate. Just last month, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a “State of Emergency” for youth mental health after seeing a 90% increase in demand for behavioral health treatment in the past two years.

Over the 2020-21 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers stepped up to address this crisis. Many transformative bills became law – here are some of the most important.

Legislation to reform the youth mental health system 

  • Senate Bill 19-195: As mentioned in previous blog posts, starting in 2019, we led the push for system reform through Senate Bill 19-195. The law formed a foundation to better serve Colorado children, youth, and families through the creation of a high-fidelity wraparound services benefit. However, the implementation funding was stripped in 2020 because of budget cuts due to COVID-19. This session, we successfully restored funding and work has already begun to create a wraparound care coordination benefit to ensure kids and families receive the right care at the right time.
  • House Bill 21-1097: We worked with partners to improve House Bill 21-1097 which creates a single state agency, the Behavioral Health Administration, to lead, promote, and administer Colorado’s behavioral health priorities. This bill is the first of many steps to implementing the recommendations of the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force, and we look forward to continuing to build a system of care that works for children, youth, and families.
  • House Bill 21-1021: We supported House Bill 21-1021 which funds behavioral health services provided by peer support professionals. This bill recognizes the importance of care provided by peers and helps expand the behavioral health workforce and increase workforce diversity.
  • Senate Bill 21-137: We also fought to restore and increase millions of dollars of behavioral health funding that was cut due to COVID-19 through Senate Bill 21-137, the Behavioral Health Recovery Act. Among many things, this important act provides $5 million in funding for emergency, short-term capacity building for youth residential placements and therapeutic foster care. It invests $5 million in crisis services for kids, including mobile crisis response units and family-based crisis services. It invests an additional $1.2 million for school-based health centers, and begins to invest in longer-term system transformations, like a statewide care coordination infrastructure and mental health workforce development.

Legislation to prevent mental health crises

  • House Bill 21-1130: We supported House Bill 21-1130 to expand the community Transition Specialist Program which provides much needed transition planning services, such as housing assistance and family supportive services, to individuals discharging from the hospital. This helps prevent rehospitalization, incarceration, and relapse for high-risk individuals.
  • House Bill 21-1085: We supported House Bill 21-1085 which creates a system to provide secure transport for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis rather than relying on transportation by law enforcement or EMS. The goal is to reduce stigma around behavioral health crises and ensure that individuals are transported safely without unnecessary and often traumatizing lights and sirens.
  • House Bill 21-1166: We supported House Bill 21-1166, which aims to improve care for individuals with disabilities. House Bill 1166 provides funding for providers who work with individuals with disabilities and co-occurring behavioral health needs to ensure better access to evidence-based, appropriate treatment for all Coloradans.
  • House Bill 21-1122: House Bill 21-1122 also aims to improve care for individuals with disabilities. The legislation establishes a commission to improve first responder interactions with persons with disabilities to determine a curriculum for training officers.
  • House Bill 21-1258: Finally, we supported House Bill 21-1258 which will create a web-based app for children and youth to voluntarily screen themselves for mental health needs. If needed, the child or youth will be able to use the app to schedule up to three mental health sessions with a behavioral health provider. These sessions are completely paid for by state funding regardless of insurance status. The goal of this bill is to screen and treat thousands of youth to prepare them to return to school in the fall.

These are dozens of other bills that will have an important impact on children, youth, and families, and we look forward to working with our partners to continue to develop a system of care that works for all Coloradans. We are so grateful to all of the lawmakers, state partners, advocacy networks, and children, youth, and families who contributed to an amazing legislative session!

If you’d like to get involved in PCMH’s policy and advocacy efforts, or have related questions, you can reach Alli at allison.daley@childrenscolorado.org

Leave a Reply