New: The Legislative Manual gives an overview of the NC General Assembly, the legislative process, and some tips on interacting with your legislators.

Legislative Manual

Gone Home...

The North Carolina General Assembly finishedits work and went home, mid-July, one of the earliest adjournments in recent years. During the nearly six months of the session legislators grappled with tight budget constraints, the tobacco settlement, and roughly 2000 pieces of legislation. Here is a summary of the issues affecting people with mental illness and their families.

State Budget:

—Provides $6 million in expansion funds for community mental health programs to address the needs of individuals waiting for services. These funds were provided in response to requests from Coalition 2001.

—$302,866 in FY 99-2000 and $609,953 in FY 2000-01 to provide mental health assessments and follow-up treatment services for residents in adult care homes identified as posing a risk to other residents during an initial assessment.

—$247,000 to expand services to individuals who are deaf and have mental illness.

—$495,000 for residential services for people with mental illness for HUD housing.

—$200,000 for Union House Clubhouse Program for people with mental illness.

—$800,000 to assist the merger of Cleveland and Gaston-Lincoln Area Programs.

—$4.35 million for the Willie M. program.

—$150,000 to provide funds for training of local area mental health Boards.

—Reduces Thomas S. Class funds by $3.9 million. A special provision, however, allows the Department of Health and Human Services to use available funds to cover service needs if necessary.

Long-term care safety initiative (Senator Purdue): Requires each resident in an adult care home to have an assessment and plan of care. Requires the Medical Care Commission to adopt rules for medication administration standards, staffing, and supervision. Establishes positions to determine level of care and services needed by residents and identify individuals who may need further mental health assessments and treatment. Establishes a number of new requirements as well as provisions for intervening in homes where there have been violations. Unfortunately, the bill also allows adult care homes to establish special units for people with mental illness outside of current licensing requirements. We will have to monitor implementation of this closely.

Prescription Drug Formularies (Senator Forrester): Allows physicians to prescribe drugs that they think their patients need even if they are not on the list of drugs a health plan will normally pay for. A process is required to allow physicians to do this with notification to the insurer.

Expanded Access to Specialty Care (Senator Forrester): Requires HMOs to allow a person with a serious chronic condition that requires constant visits to a specialist to see the specialist without having to constantly go through the primary care physician.

While some may view referral of a bill to a study committee as a way for legislators to avoid an issue, in fact, referral to a study committee can be very positive. With over 2000 bills to consider, legislators need an opportunity to take more time to understand more complex and controversial bills. Study bills can be considered in the next "short" session of the General Assembly which will convene in May 2000.The following are bills NAMI North Carolina has been involved with:

Seclusion and Restraint: This legislation was developed in the aftermath of highly publicized abuses. Opposition arose because of the limited discussion that had occurred around the bill and an inability to study implications. The bill sponsor determined that the bill should receive a thoughtful hearing and has had the bill referred to the Legislative Study Committee on Mental Health.

Conditional Release: This legislation, developed hastily, generated controversy from stakeholders concerned about potential implications of the legislation that had not been thoroughly addressed. NAMI North Carolina and other groups supported having this bill sent to a study committee so that concerns can be addressed. This bill also has been referred to the Legislative Study Committee on Mental Health.

Mental Health/Substance Abuse Insurance Parity: Facing opposition from the insurance and small business lobbies, bill Sponsor Martha Alexander worked to have this bill placed in a legislative study committee to allow for thoughtful discussion, and hopefully the development of legislation with broad support.

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