Families as Allies is tracking these bills related to mental health, disabilities and children. The list sorts bills according to their content areas: mental health, education/early intervention, child welfare, juvenile justice/criminal justice, special health care needs/healthcare, and transparency and accountability. Inclusion on the list indicates the bill is related to the issue listed. It does not imply that we agree with or endorse it. We want you to have as much information as possible so that you can advocate for what you think is best for your children and family.
General bills that are still alive have moved to the opposite chamber. That means Senate bills are now in the House, and House bills are now in the Senate.
Lt. Governor Hosemann has assigned most House bills to Senate committees, and Speaker Gunn has assigned most Senate bills to House committees. Leadership will likely assign any unassigned bills soon. The hyperlink underneath each bill explains the latest action on the bill. General bills must be voted out of committee by February 28 to stay alive and move forward. Committee Chairs decide whether or not to bring bills up for debate and voting. They can choose not to bring up a bill, in which case it dies and does not move on.
Lt. Governor Hosemann and Speaker Gunn will place bills that pass out of committee on the calendar to be voted on by the entire Senate or House.
To give feedback on a bill that leadership has assigned to a committee:
- Call the Capitol switchboard at (601) 359-3770 and ask them to give a message to the relevant committee chair.
- If you think the bill is a good idea, tell them why the members should vote it out of committee.
- If you do not think the bill is a good idea, tell them why members should not vote it out of committee.
At this point in the session, you want to contact the committee chair in the OPPOSITE chamber from where the bill began. You can tell which chamber a bill started in by looking at the bill number. Senate Bill numbers start with SB, and House Bill numbers start with HB. (House and Senate Resolutions, Concurrent Resolutions and Senate Nominations do not always follow the same timelines as bills.)
Families as Allies does not typically take stances on legislation. Still, we do look at bills’ consistency with the nationally accepted definition of family-driven practice, our core values (every child and family, excellence, partnership and accountability) and our core beliefs about families. These are our core beliefs about families:
- Families know their children better than anyone
- Families are their children’s strongest advocates
- Systems should follow laws and policies about families’ and children’s rights
From time to time, throughout the remainder of the session, we will discuss specific bills through the lens of the definition of family-driven practice and our core values and beliefs. This week we draw your attention to bills about mental health and foster care parents’ bill of rights.
Mental Health: House Bill 1222 and Senate Bill 2576 each provide general pathways to improve the state mental health system, including how it should be structured. One of the most valuable pieces of information for legislators is how the mental health system functions for you and your family. They can then use your feedback to ensure that laws and policies help people with mental illness and their families.
If you have thoughts about how well the mental health system works, we encourage you to call the Capitol switchboard and leave messages with your feedback on Senate Bill 2576 for Chairman Sam C. Mims. If you have feedback on House Bill 1222, leave a message for Lt. Governor Hosemann (he has not yet assigned this bill to a committee).
We urge policymakers working on mental health legislation to do these things as well:
- Gather input from as many people and groups as possible, including people with mental illnesses and their families; groups that represent people with mental illness and their families; other grassroots and disability rights groups; mental health providers; people who refer to the mental health system; and concerned community members.
- Examine mental health structures in other states and any existing data about which models lead to the best outcomes, the most efficient coordination with other state entities (especially Medicaid) and the greatest transparency and accountability. Funding and Characteristics of Single State Agencies for Substance Abuse and State Mental Health Agencies, and State Behavioral Health Systems are documents that might be helpful.
- Collaborate with the Coordinator of Mental Health Accessibility.
Foster Care Parents Bill of Rights: There were two bills about foster care parents’ rights and responsibilities. Seventeen other states have enacted similar laws. One bill passed in committee, was recommitted to the committee, and died. The other bill, House Bill 510, has a reverse repealer. That is a technical step to keep a bill from being enacted even if it passes. Legislators sometimes take this step when groups perceive a problem with a bill. It may mean there is an opportunity to work out whatever the perceived problems are.
These are the rights in the bill:
- Notification of basic benchmarks that a foster parent must meet, such as appointments, home visits, visiting the child at school, and meetings with the child’s family;
- Advance notice of information regarding scheduled meetings, appointments, and court hearings concerning the foster child;
- The opportunity to communicate with professionals who work with the foster child;
- The opportunity to communicate and collaborate, without the threat of reprisal, with a department representative, such as the family protection worker or family protection specialist, when further educational services are needed;
- The opportunity to attend all IEP meetings, along with the department worker, at the child’s school as long as the child is in custody and receiving special-education services;
- The opportunity to communicate with the foster child’s guardian ad litem;
- The opportunity and right to appear and be represented by legal counsel;
- The judge or the judge’s designee shall order the clerk of the youth court to issue a summons to the foster parents to appear personally at the hearings;
- The opportunity to request permission to communicate with the child’s birth family, other foster parents of the child, and prospective and finalized adoptive parents of the child without the threat of reprisal;
- Involvement in all the agency’s crucial decisions regarding the child as team members with pertinent information;
- The opportunity to participate in the planning of visitations between the child and the child’s siblings and biological family;
- Right to advance notice of all scheduled visitations;
- The ability to communicate with department personnel or representatives twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week, to aid the foster parent;
- A comprehensive list of all resources available to the foster parent and child, including, but not limited to, dental providers, medical providers, respite workers in the area, daycares, and methods for submitting reimbursements.
If you have feedback about House Bill 510 and if this foster care parent bill of rights should move forward, we strongly encourage you to contact the committee chair, Senator Brice Wiggins and Senator Nicole Boyd. You can leave messages for them at the Capitol switchboard at (601) 359-3770. Let them know, too, if you are willing to help work out any problems that have come up with this bill.
The Mississippi House and Senate are both live-streamed. Senate committee meetings are live-streamed as well. The link to join is at the top of the Senate committee agenda schedule.