The Senate on Thursday approved one of the most high-profile bills from the Children’s Committee this session — a sweeping proposal that addresses issues related to children’s mental health, access to libraries and health insurance, among other measures.
Senate Bill 2, One of the priorities of the Democratic caucus this session, passed unanimously. Sen. Ceci Maher, D-Wilton, chairman of the Children’s Committee, amended the bill in two parts, including one that would protect libraries from book bans.
“The needs for behavioral health in our state right now are overwhelming, so there is a need for this,” Mahder said of the bill designed to help residents access behavioral health services.
The bill would create an office of behavioral health advocate to help residents access mental health services, require Medicaid to pay for suicide evaluations, hire state workers to enroll more children in HUSKY, provide translation services for family service plans and establish a statewide play-based education for young children.
Libraries that have a clear process that allows residents to object to library materials are eligible for certain subsidies under the bill. This is a change from the original language, which proposed the creation of a “congregational library” or a library that lends books banned in other circumstances and does not ban books or other library materials.
In many states across the country, libraries have faced weak legal protections and challenges to some books, many of them about LGBTQ or racial issues. The adjustment was made after discussions about how to protect library associations from book bans, said Mr. Mahder.
The bill would add a staff member to the Department of Public Health to streamline the licensing process for social workers in hopes of getting more into the community, Maher said.
It also extends public defender services for youth involved in the foster care system to 23 young adults. Current law would end those services at 18, according to the bill’s budget memo.
Republicans on Thursday offered their own amendment aimed at addressing the financial concerns lawmakers have raised from the floor. That amendment did not pass.
“This is unnecessary growth of the government at the expense of taxpayers,” said Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, a ranking member of the Children’s Committee, of one section of the bill.
“I believe these funds could be better spent on services instead of hiring another employee,” Seminara said of another part of the bill.
Senate President Pro Tem. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the measure builds on work that began last session when mental health became a legislative session issue. He also said there is a need for more mental health care for children in Connecticut.
National surveys show that many children are struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
“The crisis is manifesting itself in many ways, and I think this bill is an effort this year to follow up on what we started last year,” Looney said.
Funding for certain mental health services was a key issue this session as lawmakers negotiated how to support the growing need with cost-control measures. Designed to improve the state’s fiscal position.
Most of it Fiscal note Accompanying the revised Senate bill is funding for additional civil servant positions.
The bill goes to the House next.
Staff writer Jessica Harkay contributed to this report.