Opponents Form PAC, Murphy Stumps For Votes, Fight About Mental Health Continues


Representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote this year, but the Pennsylvania Republican’s promise to reintroduce the bill in the coming legislative session continues to keep both its supporters and opponents busy.

Opponents have created a Stop The Murphy Bill Political Action Committee (PAC) to kill the proposed legislation. The PAC’s spokesperson, Jeanne Peschier, explained in a statement that the group will focus on mid-term elections and “will advocate for legislation that reduces forced psychiatric treatment and increases funding for alternatives to it. We will educate Congress and the public about the harms of forced psychiatric treatment.”  You can read more about the PAC and Jeanne Peschier at the Mental Health Civil Rights Protest blog.

Representative Murphy, meanwhile, has continued his tireless campaign to get support for his bill. Most recently, he has been traveling to other congressional districts to explain why the changes he is proposing should be implemented. His latest grassroots trip has been to North Carolina’s second district at the invitation of fellow Republican Representative Renee Ellmers. He’s also visited Florida’s Second District at the request of Republican Representative Vernon Buchanan.

G.G. Burns, who is an active supporter of Murphy’s legislation and a long-time activist in Kentucky for passage of Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws, was the first to call my attention to the newly formed anti-Murphy PAC.  In her note, she complained that the PAC’s backers, like several other consumer groups that oppose Murphy’s bill, receive federal funds.

It only takes a few seconds to trace this group back to SAMHSA through their technical assistance program (STARS) …I see very clearly how ‘tax dollars’ under the guidance of SAMHSA, and the “CONSUMERSTARS” program are instrumental in blocking action on our much needed AOT bills….

Murphy’s bill  would transfer money away from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) into the National Institute of Mental Health’s coffers, and gut the federal government’s Protection and Advocacy For Persons With Mental Illness Program (PAIMI). PAIMI regularly fights AOT laws, which is a key reason why Murphy and his bill’s supporters, want to reduce most of its funding.

So far, neither side on Capitol Hill has been willing to discuss a compromise between Murphy’s bill and the Strengthening Mental Health in Our  Communities Act that was hurriedly introduced by the Democrats when Murphy’s bill began gaining steam. Arizona Representative Ron Barber, who was wounded by Jared Loughner during the Tucson shooting of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, drafted the bill as an alternative to Murphy’s at the request of the Democratic leadership. It basically is a stripped down version of Murphy’s bill —  minus its most controversial changes, such as taking power and money away from SAMHSA, modifying HIPAA, requiring states to adopt AOT, adopting a need for treatment standard for involuntary commitment, and gutting PAIMI.

The mid-term elections are not expected to radically change the make-up of either the Senate or the House and because of that, it’s doubtful that much will have changed politically when Congress reconvenes.  The question is: will either side agree to a compromise?

I think this paragraph from a recent article by Tod Lindberg published in The New Republic about the mid-term elections correctly summarizes the situation we’re in.

Each party keeps looking to the next election to provide a decisive edge, but elections aren’t doing that. If the Senate flips in 2014, not much else is likely to change with it. As long as both sides see greater political advantage in inaction than in working together, there is no way out of this polarized, mistrustful standoff. And if Democrats have become all but invincible running for president, while Republicans, for structural reasons, keep holding onto the House, this might be the state of affairs for quite some time.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.