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Iowa House Passes Children's Mental Health Proposal

John Pemble/IPR file
The bill creating a mental health system framework passed on an 83-14 vote. Some Democrats who voted against it raised concerns about a lack of sustainable funding and additional services.

A bill that creates the framework for a children’s mental health system in Iowa passed the Iowa House of Representatives Thursday.

It directs the state’s mental health regions, which administer the adult mental health system, to develop and provide services for children. Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed the bill after receiving recommendations from an advisory board.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, said it seeks to provide equal access to services across the state.

“We can say we have passed a robust children’s mental health piece of legislation that lays the groundwork for what will come in the state of Iowa,” Fry said.

It creates a statewide children’s mental health board and orders each region to hire a children’s services coordinator. It also establishes eligibility standards and mandates that certain services be provided, including early identification, medication prescribing and management, outpatient therapy, crisis stabilization, and inpatient treatment.

The bill passed 83 to 14.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, was one of the Democrats who voted no. She said that’s because there’s not enough certainty in continuing to fund mental health services with through Medicaid and property taxes.

“Many of our counties are struggling right now with the adult system,” Mascher said. “And one of the recommendations from the governor’s task force was that we not put another burden on the counties.”

The majority of Democrats voted for the bill.

“I of course wish we could’ve added more,” said Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo. “But I also totally understand that we are moving from no structure, to a structure. And we have to build that structure.”

Fry and Democrats who voted for the bill agreed they should keep working on developing the system and sustainable funding sources.

Mental health funding

The House also unanimously passed a bill Thursday that deals with mental health funding.

It would allow the mental health regions to retain a larger portion of excess funds and gives them more time to spend down their fund balances.

Rep. Fry said this is “part of the fix” for providing sustainable mental health funding, and will give regions more funding flexibility to develop adult and children’s services.

Both bills go to the Senate.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter