After the loss of his son to suicide five years ago, Virginia Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds convened a legislative task force to transform the state’s mental health system.
The group is set to wrap up their work next year. When the commission began in 2014, they were given four years – until the end of 2019 – to work on the issue. But they now hope to extend their deadline. The commission voted unanimously to bring forward legislation to keep the commission running until 2021.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done, but we’ve got a heck of a lot of work still to do,” said Deeds at the end of a commission meeting Tuesday. “We’ve just scratched the surface in many ways.”
The list of topics the group hopes to tackle during the upcoming General Assembly session is long – running the gamut from workforce shortage issues, to hospital overcrowding to outdated facilities.
That reality set in for Deeds, who asked his colleagues for input about how best to continue their work, raising the possibility of a permanent commission. Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope said he’d introduce legislation to propose just that.
“This is arguably the most vulnerable population in the whole Commonwealth,” Hope said. “There are always going to be issues, there are always going to be gaps, there’s always going to be a need for maintenance. There’s always going to be a need for best practices that a commission should look at.”
Republican Senator Emmett Hanger expressed hesitations about creating a permanent commission.
“I think we’re acting with a sense of urgency right now,” Hanger said. “Sometimes commissions that just hang around forever don’t have that sense of urgency.”
Republican Delegate Robert Bell brought up other considerations that come along with permanent commissions, pointing to the Crime Commission as an example. There’s permanent staff and a need to include other experts on the commission, not just legislators.
Hanger proposed introducing legislation in January to extend the group’s current work for another two years instead of deciding to go forward
“It seems to me these aren’t conflicting ideas,” said Virginia Senator Janet Howell. “We could continue ourselves for one year with the expectation we would recommend a commission a year from now. And we could decide not to do that.”
The commission voted unanimously to approve Hanger’s recommendation to bring forward legislation to continue the commission’s work for at least another two years.