Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lege focused on least-bad band aids on mental health, competency and jails

At the Texas Tribune, Brandi Grissom has an item (published a week ago on their Texas Weekly subscription site) about a pair of bills addressing competency restoration in county jails, legislation that Grits had discussed the day before. One minor quibble: Grissom described Rep. Zerwas' and Sen. Duncan's bills as "companions" (i.e., identical bills filed in both chambers), but that's not quite accurate. They're not listed as companions on the capitol website. As I read it, Duncan's bill creates a two-county pilot, while Zerwas' legislation sets a more generalized rule allowing counties to perform competency restoration in jail (through the local mental health authority or a provider they help select) instead of at the state hospital.

Normally I'd say performing mental health treatment in jails instead of hospitals is a bad idea. But because incompetent defendants, including those only charged with misdemeanors, are spending many months in jail on waiting lists for state hospital beds to open up, providing mental health services while in lockup amounts to the least bad option. As Grits wrote last week, both bills are band-aids and by no means a substitute for an adequately funded community mental health system. Clearly the Texas Legislature won't provide adequate funding on their own (not in this session's budget, anyway), so the question becomes whether courts will at some point force them to spend more money treating incompetent, mentally ill defendants awaiting trial. The state lost the first round in the courts and pending litigation on the subject will likely be resolved, one way or the other, by the time the Lege meets again in 2015.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While Grits I know this is totally off the topic. As an avid reader I came to your site looking for some info or an opinion on the subject. This affects all State employees including State LE officers from all State LE Departments including corrections. Currently the Legislature is attempting to pass CSSB 1459. This bill was flown in under the radar after the closing date for the filling of bills in March. This piece of legislation severely hurts state employee’s retirement options. All State employees are in the ERS retirement fund.

Currently full retirement benefits for all State Employees in ERS are calculated on the rule of 80 (age+years of service) if you retire before reaching that rule the person is penalized up to a 25% cap on their retirement.
The proposed Legislation would use the Rule of 80 in addition to a minimum retirement age of 62. For law enforcement and corrections officers it would be the rule of 80and minimum age of 57. In addition if one chooses to retire before reaching the minimum retirement age regardless of meeting the Rule of 80, that person would be penalized 5% per year with the 25% cap removed. In addition all sick leave, vacation, and comp time earned will no longer be used for credit towards years of service.

At a time when many State Employees have not seen a raise passed since the 2007 session placing these retirement restrictions further decreases their Agencies ability to recruit and hire new employees. This is already evident at DPS were Trooper salaries are already far below those of comparable size municipal agencies in Texas. As many people know Law Enforcement is a young man’s game. It requires shift work, physical fitness, a willingness and ability to physically control another human being if necessary , who will most likely be 18-35 years of age. Many Troopers, Game Wardens and other state officers came to their respective agencies in the early 20’s with the expectation of being able to retire in their early 50’s.

This does not even take into account all the other State Agencies such as TXDOT, Health and Human Service etc…. Those state employees will be required to work till age 62. While I know many in the private sector may scoff at the retirement benefits of State or Government Employees. Public sector employees will never earn what their private sector counterparts do. We realize this and many of us view our jobs as a call of service to our communities or the greater good. The one thing we have always been able to count on is a secure, stable and unchanging retirement.

Currently the Texas ERS retirement fund is in the black unlike many states such as California or Wisconsin. The management of ERS is fiscally sound through the next 77 years.

This piece of legislation serves no purpose other than to make recruitment and employee retention more difficult for State Agencies.
I hope you will look into this matter and place it in the public’s eye. The manner in which CSSB 1459 was brought to the table is cowardly in my opinion.