Texas 85th Legislative Session and Mental Health

Inside the Legislative Summary:

  • Bills passed during the 85th Texas legislative session addressed a wide range of behavioral health needs, including building community collaboratives, ensuring mental health parity, advancing peer support services, improving child welfare and children’s mental health, and continuing efforts to de-criminalize mental illness.
  • An increase in funds included in Article II of the General Appropriations Act appropriated for behavioral health services amounted to more than $92 million.
  • Efforts aimed at certain policy issues — such as Medicaid expansion, SMI benefits, IDD services and supports, and trauma-informed training in schools — failed to gain traction.

The Hogg Foundation’s 85th legislative summary is an overview of mental health- and substance use-related legislation filed during Texas’ most recent legislative session. The document summarizes the action items of bills that passed and bills that failed to pass.

Overall, funds appropriated for behavioral health services by the Health and Human Services Committee (HHSC) increased by more than $92 million. Nearly all HHSC mental health strategies will see budgetary gains during the 2018-19 biennium, but efforts to expand the baseline for Medicaid eligibility did not come to fruition.

Some legislation aimed to address management of general mental health. HB 10 (Price/Zaffirini) passed, creating greater authority and compliance efforts that will improve mental health parity across the state. HB 10 also creates an ombudsman within the Health and Human Services Commission to work directly with people who are experiencing difficulty accessing mental health or substance use services. However, efforts aimed at increasing certain insurance benefits for individuals living with serious mental illness and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities were met with less success.

Child welfare reform gained some momentum with the passage of SB 11 (Schwertner/Thompson, Senfronia), a bill that gives the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services the opportunity to implement “community-based care” in Child Protective Services.

Significant bills passed related to children’s mental health included HB 1600 (Thompson, Senfronia/Watson), which grants mental health screenings to child Medicaid recipients, and HB 2466 (Davis, Sarah/Huffman), which adds maternal depression screenings to child Medicaid service packages.

The state guardianship system came under heavy scrutiny this session, inspiring the legislation of bills like SB 36 (Zaffirini), which improves current regulations by establishing a comprehensive database of existing guardianship programs. Although SB 36 passed, other bills meant to improve the guardianship system, including SB 667 (Zaffirini/Smithee) and SB 498 (Zaffirini/Neave), did not pass.

In the realm of criminal justice legislation, the passage of the much-publicized Sandra Bland Act, or SB 1849 (Whitmire/Coleman), will precipitate reforms in mental health and de-escalation training for officers. Passed juvenile justice legislation included HB 1521 (White/Whitmire), a bill that will increase cross-agency communication and transparency, and HB 932 (Johnson/West), which requires the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to factor foster care history into their admissions rulings.

Mental health care for veterans was addressed with the passage of SB 27 (Campbell/Blanco), SB 578 (Lucio/Gutierrez), and SB 591 (Lucio/Blanco). These bills increase the capacity of state veteran services with the creation of a research center, collaborative suicide prevention plan, and a community outreach campaign to promote veteran services.

Reform legislation to improve mental health of students through schools and education prioritized prevention and early intervention. Bills written for institutions of higher education saw some success. HB 2895 (Price/Seliger), for example, requires applicable institutions to link to mental health resources on their home pages. HB 11 (Price) and HB 3887 (Coleman), both of which were broader efforts to reform approaches to mental health in public schools, failed to pass.

More detailed information on individual bills — as well as HHSC mental health strategies, riders, and special provisions — can be found in the document.