HB 264, the budget bill for the mental health division of the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, has won unanimous support from the Senate and now heads to the governor’s desk. The bill includes $1.7 million in funding for a second mental health crisis center; last year, Gov. Butch Otter proposed three of the centers around the state, but only one was approved, in Idaho Falls. The next one is expected to go to North Idaho, but four North Idaho lawmakers voted against the budget bill in the House.
In the Senate, all were in favor. “I am a strong supporter of this piece of legislation,” Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Senate. He said the center will help avoid placing people with mental health crises in jail cells or restraining them in hospital beds. “It has been proven to all of us legislators … how the crisis center is a much better way to go,” Nonini said. “I would hope that it would be in the Coeur d’Alene area, as it’s kind of the largest central location for those five northern counties.”
Earlier in the House, the bill had drawn nine “no” votes, including from North Idaho Reps. Vito Barbieri, Shannon McMillan, Ron Mendive and Kathy Sims. Barbieri said after the House vote, “I’m sure we’re going to get that in the north, it’s just a matter of the cost and whether we’re going to get what we expect.” He said, “I’m not sure that the state has a role in this. I think that Kootenai Medical, since it’s a local organization … is already equipped to be handling these medical emergencies.”
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, who sponsored the bill in the House, said, “I would have liked to have had unanimous support from our area, and no one voiced any concerns to me about it.” The budget bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.