Gun violence bill addresses school security, mental health issues

School security provisions are included in the state’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety proposals in addition to gun violence prevention proposals (click here for related story). Also included are provisions on mental health.

The task force announced its bill proposal on Monday evening. The General Assembly is expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

The bill was prompted by the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012. A single shooter killed 20 children and six educators.

The task force’s bill would establish the School Safety Infrastructure Council, which would develop safety standards for school building projects. It calls for these standards to be ready by Jan. 1, 2014 and updated annually as necessary.

It would require the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) in consultation with the state Department of Education to develop school security and safety plan standards by Jan. 1, 2014. It also requires that school security and safety plans be developed at each school, among other things.

The bill would also re-authorize the school security infrastructure competitive grant program to reimburse towns for upgrades to school security infrastructure. The reimbursement rate would be the same as a district’s rate under school construction.

The bill addresses higher learning institutions and requires all state and independent colleges and universities in the state to submit a security plan to the DESPP. Among other things, the creation of threat assessment teams would be mandated.

The mental health proposals focus “on helping individuals and their families overcome obstacles to accessing treatment and support,” the task force said.

One proposal requires the state Department of Mental Health and Human Services in consultation with the state Department of Education to administer a mental health first aid training program. The program would teach people to recognize the signs of mental disorders in children and young adults and connect them with services. It allows school boards to require teachers and other school employees to participate in this training.

Another proposal would create a  task force to conduct a comprehensive study of the state’s mental health system, with a special focus on the 16- to 25-year-old population.

Also in the proposal is the establishment of the ACCESS-MH program, modeled after the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project and similar programs in 26 other states. This program would provide training, support and professional consultation for pediatricians to help them intervene with children who have mental health conditions.

The bill would make several changes to commercial insurance based on the recommendations of the Program Review and Investigations Committees and bills from the PRI and Insurance Committees. For example, the bill would require that certain mental health and substance abuse services be considered “urgent care.”

The General Assembly is expected to vote on the task force’s proposals on Wednesday.