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Colo. Senate advances bill to tackle same issue as House red flag measure: mental health

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

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mental healthColorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (Colorado Politics file photo)

The Republican-controlled Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee later Monday is expected to hear the “red flag” proposal on guns, House Bill 1436, and kill the measure, likely along party lines.

At the same time, Republicans are pushing for a bill to address the mental health issue that is also embedded in the red flag measure. Senate Bill 270 would provide “wrap-around” services for people taken into custody for a 72-hour mental health hold.

Assistant House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver released HB 1436 — the Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act —  during Monday morning’s business, a delay carried over from Friday.

Garnett had put a hold on the bill after it passed on Friday to prevent it from going over to the Senate and a Friday night hearing, one that would have likely prevented supporters from getting to the Capitol in time to testify. No time has yet been set for the Senate committee hearing.

HB 1436 would allow law enforcement or family members to obtain a temporary “extreme risk protective order” that would require law enforcement to remove firearms from a person deemed a threat to themselves or to others.

After seven days, the at-risk person can seek to retrieve their weapons, or if clear and convincing evidence exists that the person is still at-risk, those weapons can be held for up to 182 days. The at-risk person could still go back to a judge at any time in that 182 days to ask for their weapons to be returned.

Sponsors have said the bill will help prevent suicides and murders, such as the New Year’s Eve killing of Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Zackari Parrish, for whom the measure is named.

Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, who is strongly opposed to the House measure, told reporters Monday that the red flag bill focuses on “things” — he later clarified that he meant guns — and not on people, as it should be.

“I’ve never met a violent gun or a violent kitchen knife,” Neville said.

Neville is one of two sponsors of SB 270, which addresses one of the mental health issues raised with the red flag bill: the 72-hour hold. Mental health professionals testified during the House hearing that people taken to an emergency room or hospital on a mental health hold rarely spend the entire 72 hours in custody; most are released after a couple of hours and often without follow-up support.

Once released, the at-risk person often needs services that haven’t been available, according to Neville and his co-sponsor, unaffiliated Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge. The programs envisioned in SB 270 would provide a bridge between hospitalization and support for the at-risk person, they explained. An emergency transition team would ensure the person, whether mentally ill or a substance abuser, would receive services such as “housing, program placement, access to behavioral health treatment or benefits, advocacy, and other supportive services.”

The program carries a cost of $1.6 million per year, but that money has already been plugged into the 2018-19 state budget, according to Jahn. It also would provide assistance to those on Medicaid or without private insurance, she said, adding she believes the bill also will reduce the risk of suicide.

While Senate Republicans appear to be painting SB as a competitor to the red flag bill, Garnett sees it as a companion piece. The bill was always in the works and “it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” Garnett told Colorado Politics.

But he said it’s also important to remember that the opposition to the red flag bill prefers to put a mentally ill person in jail than temporarily remove a firearm that they are not mentally responsible to handle. “They would prefer to take your liberty” rather than temporarily remove property, he said.

SB 270 passed the Senate on 34-0 vote on May 4 and is slated for a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Services Committee. Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial, one of the sponsors of the red flag bill, are sponsoring the Senate measure.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland