Kennedy Says Don’t Pass Tim Murphy’s “Watered Down” Mental Health Bill: Start Over!

Photo by Christian Science Monitor

Photo by Christian Science Monitor

(11-4-16) Mental Health Activist and former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy says Congress should delay passing a mental health reform bill this month during its lame duck session.

His statement could be another setback for Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act, which Murphy has been trying to get signed into law since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

You might recall that Democrats blocked passage of Murphy’s original bill until Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) rewrote it earlier this year, eliminating its most controversial features. That version sailed through the House. Now, everyone is waiting for the Senate to pass its version —the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016. It was introduced by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R.-La.) as a companion bill to Murphy’s,  but it also has been extensively revised to appease critics. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is now shepherding the Senate bill with help from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.), the powerful Senate Majority Whip.

Their game plan was to bring the bill up for a vote during the lame duck session that begins November 15th and get it passed (without additional debate and no amendments) so it could be immediately merged with Murphy’s House bill and delivered to the White House for President Obama to sign into law before leaving office.

However, in a recent interview with POLITICO’s Brianna Ehley, Kennedy said he is urging lawmakers to wait until the next Congress to pass any mental health reform legislation. Although he is no longer in Congress, Kennedy has considerable clout when it comes to mental health topics, especially among Democrats.

Kennedy said having the Senate pass legislation during the lame duck session would “do more harm than good,” adding that Murphy’s bill is now “so watered down” that it does nothing more than “reallocate money around block grants.”

“Passing that bill will take the wind out of the sales for real reform,” Kennedy added. “Kick it to the next Congress and the new administration to do this the right way.”

Kennedy made those statements when polls were showing that Presidential Candidate  Hillary Clinton was heading for such a landslide victory that Democrats would not only capture the White House but also win important seats in Congress.

Now that FBI Director James Comey has pressed his thumb on the scales and Republican Donald Trump has come from behind in the polls and actually either is in a dead heat or winning, Kennedy might have a change of heart.

Candidate Clinton has talked about the need for mental health reform in her campaign speeches and has posted her reform plan on her website. Candidate Trump has no plan listed in his campaign materials.

Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, said his group will be launching a major lobbying effort to get the Senate to pass its version of Murphy’s bill later this month, but he warned that Congress might not get around to it — not because of Kennedy’s comments but because of squabbling.

Here is what he told reporter  writing for Open Minds.

“They will have to devote time to either another continuing resolution, or pass a budget, or the government will run out of money. So I think they may get distracted again.”

For Murphy and his supporters, not getting the bill passed, will force them to re-boot in the next Congress and try a third 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.