Colorado's sixty-ninth General Assembly convened in January in the shadow of heartbreaking tragedies here in Aurora and in Newtown, Connecticut. Governor Hickenlooper and legislators from both parties expressed the desire to respond to what the public perceived was a connection between these atrocious crimes: serious mental illness.
Mental Health America of Colorado seized the opportunity presented by this renewed public attention to mental health. We fought the stigma associated with mental illness, shifting the public policy conversation away from ideas that would have negatively affected many of the 1.5 million Coloradans living with behavioral health conditions. We worked closely with state agencies and legislators to craft laws driven by 21st century science, shaped by the experience of individuals who have been through the system themselves, and based on the values of equality and dignity that MHAC has championed for the last 60 years.
On May 16, 2013, after 120 days of intense legislative work, Governor Hickenlooper came to the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and signed into law HB 13-1296 and SB 13-266, two historic bills that will modernize and improve Colorado's public behavioral health care system.
We urge everyone to remember that first and foremost, mental health IS health- it doesn't belong to a separate category. The legislation signed today is an important part of overall health care reform in our state. These bills seek to promote health and wellness through updating involuntary treatment statutes that were written forty years ago, creating a trauma-informed system of care that focuses on an individual's specific needs, and building a statewide behavioral health crisis response system.
Our work now shifts to the implementation phase. We are thrilled that both of these bills are starting points, not destinations. Both create stakeholder processes that will allow us to fine-tune changes and adapt to the diverse behavioral health needs of Coloradans. We invite other health care advocates to contact us and get involved in these efforts.
Our thanks go to Governor Hickenlooper, Senators Linda Newell and Jeanne Nicholson, and Representatives Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Dave Young, and Beth McCann for their support and leadership this year.