One of Joe’s highest priorities in the Texas House has been improving and reforming behavioral health care in Texas. Joe formed the first-ever House Select Committee on Mental Health in order to take a comprehensive look at behavioral health issues in Texas and recommend ways that services could be delivered more effectively and efficiently. The work of this committee led to landmark mental health reforms in the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature.
Joe has been widely recognized for his work on mental health issues. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Antonio presented him with the 2018 Visionary Leader Award.
Under Joe’s leadership, the Texas House has taken numerous steps to improve mental health care in Texas, such as:
Increasing funding for mental health services: In 2017, the Legislature increased state funding for behavioral health care by more than $400 million. This funding increase included $300 million to repair and replace state hospitals and other mental health facilities. The Legislature also added $63 million to expand community behavioral health services and $37 million for grants targeting jail-diversion programs.
Reforming the mental health system: The Legislature passed House Bill 10 in order to ensure that insurance companies provide parity in benefits for mental and physical health conditions. The House also passed new laws to fast-track licensing for psychiatrists looking to move to Texas, and legislation allowing county jails to establish a system to divert people with mental health conditions to more cost-efficient and effective treatment programs.
Improving the treatment of mental illness in jails: The House passed the Sandra Bland Act, which revised legal guidelines relating to interactions between law enforcement and individuals who are detained or arrested, including those with a mental illness or intellectual disability. It also required additional training for law enforcement and county jailers, and it improved oversight of deaths that occur in county jails.
Focusing on substance abuse: In late 2017, Joe created the House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse. He created the committee in order to continue an important aspect of the work of the House Select Committee on Mental Health. The committee is studying the impact of substance abuse and working to identify effective prevention and treatment strategies. The committee is also looking specifically at how substance abuse affects pregnant women, veterans, the homeless population, and Texans with mental illness, as well as those who are in the criminal justice system or have interacted with Child Protective Services.