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Revive mental health bills

Times West Virginian - 4/9/2019

April 09-- Apr. 9--Gov. Jim Justice recently vetoed 15 bills from the 2019 legislative session for what he called technical reasons.

At least two of those bills would have led to improving the mental healthcare landscape of the Mountain State.

Since he pulled out his veto pen, Justice has said that there is a possibility that some of the vetoed bills could be addressed again in the upcoming special session.

However, that doesn't do anything to improve mental health in Marion County and the state until then.

House Bill 2530, sponsored by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R- Cabell, would block recovery and sober living homes from receiving state funding unless they participated in a voluntary certification process.

Recovery and sober living homes offer housing to people in recovery and employ people in recovery to work as peer mentors. They are not licensed health care providers.

House Bill 2531, also sponsored by Rohrbach, added psych-mental health nurse practitioners and psych-mental health clinical nurse specialists to the list of those who may prescribe and offer counseling at medication-assisted treatment programs.

Medication-assisted treatment programs offer medications to help people stop using pain killers or heroin by easing the effects of opioid withdrawal.

The Times West Virginian believes these bills would have been a positive shot in the arm to helping stop the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

And a third bill vetoed by Justice would have helped mental health workers pay off their student loans if they agreed to practice in underserved areas of the state.

House Bill 2674, sponsored by Delegate Atkinson, created a student loan repayment program for mental health workers. It may be considered during an upcoming special session focused on education.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission would have administered the student loan repayment fund. Those eligible could have received $10,000 in loan repayment funding for each year of practice in an underserved area in West Virginia for up to three years.

They would have to work in West Virginia for three years. The bill would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The bill also would have also have allowed two non-resident medical students to attend medical school in the state at the in-state student rate. Lawmakers had combined bills to ensure passage as the end of the legislative session neared.

Justice wrote in his veto message that he supported the intent of the bill but was vetoing it for technical reasons.

The people deserve more of an answer than "technical reasons."

And, since no real agenda or date has been given yet for a special session, all of these promises almost appear to kicking the can down the road.

It's been said by many in the know that the opioid epidemic is not something that has one single solution. We believe these bills deserve a chance, especially if they help save lives.

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