Bush Backs Reform of Mental Health Law; He Supports Mandated Outpatient Treatment

Article excerpt

Byline: NIN-HAI TSENG, The Times-Union

AMELIA ISLAND -- In a short appearance Monday before hundreds of Florida sheriffs and deputies, Gov. Jeb Bush backed proposed legislation to reform the state's mental health law and allow for court-ordered outpatient treatment.

Under the current Baker Act, authorities can hold individuals involuntarily and conduct psychiatric evaluations on them if they prove to be a harm to themselves or others. Once stabilized, they're let go.

But the current law is short of long-term resolutions, Bush said during a Florida Sheriffs Association conference in Amelia Island Plantation.

It does not promise that those who are released will continue with treatment. Perhaps more important, it doesn't promise that they won't end up in jail or harm others, Bush said.

Florida is one of nine states that does not allow court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with untreated severe mental illnesses, said Donald Eslinger of the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.

The reform, led by the Florida Sheriffs Association, would give judges authority to order outpatient treatment for mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

The bill was passed in the House last legislative session but failed to make it to the Senate floor.

"Untreated mental illness is not just a quality of life issue but also a public safety issue," Eslinger said. …