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Eye On Illinois: Lawmakers seek to address the mental health challenge

“Put a twist on your liberal articles and try to get liberals to grow an extra brain cell and inform them that MORE mental health care is the answer!”

Thanks to that email from a reader, I thought we’d take a little trip in the Eye On Illinois time machine. First stop is March 22, after Gov. JB Pritzker announced the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative, which Capitol News Illinois framed as an attempt to “build a coordinated response between six state agencies in an effort to support children with behavioral health needs while increasing transparency in the process.”

Pritzker called for funneling $50 million in federal funds to the Illinois Department of Human Services for such programs and $150 million to fully implement Pathways to Success, a program for children with serious mental illness.

Scott T. Holland

Zip ahead a few weeks to April 7, after Democrats proposed the First Responder Behavioral Health Grant Fund to help local governments, law enforcement agencies, fire districts, school districts, hospitals or ambulance services cover expenses related to behavioral health care for first responders. That was part of an amendment to House Bill 1321, which also would let the Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board create statewide minimum standards for mental health screenings for officers.

Other proposal aspects included the Mental Health and Substance Use Prevention Fund, created through an amendment to House Bill 4364, to help local governments and public universities provide resources to people who are incarcerated. An amendment to House Bill 1571 would build a child care grant program to support providers that expand after-hours and nightly child care for families of first responders and other late-shift workers.

A May 19 column covered Pritzker signing House Bill 4736, launching a four-city pilot program pairing social workers and mental health professionals with police while responding to certain situations. Other communities have attempted similar efforts, so hopefully lessons learned can be scaled statewide.

Closer to the present is Pritzker’s June 10 signing of Senate Bill 3617. I didn’t write about that one at the time – it passed both chambers unanimously – but CNI said the goal is to expand the number of providers by making it easier for out-of-state workers to be licensed in Illinois and making it easier for those with lapsed licenses to pursue reinstatement.

It also creates a tax credit program for employers that hire people who – of their own volition – report being in a mental health or addiction recovery program and lets DHS give grants or contracts to bolster training programs for aspiring professionals.

Perhaps these efforts are misguided. Maybe they’re underfunded or lack efficiency controls. But they’re not nothing, and the lawmakers who supported them deserve credit for acknowledging and addressing the challenge.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at