Over the last few weeks the focus has been on gun violence prevention legislation. However, in conversations many ask “what else are we doing about school safety and about mental health”.
School Safety - The House unanimously approved H923. This annual bill appropriates funds to infrastructure improvement projects across the state. This year the bill provides $4m for School Safety and Security Grants with an additional $1m in federal funds. Schools may apply for grants to implement safety measures such as intercom systems, window coverings, door looks, etc. The Governor convened a group to perform security assessments of all schools. Once that report is delivered and the Capital Budget is signed into law, schools will be able to apply for a grant.
Mental Health - The general fund budget passed by the House allocated funds to provide community outreach counselors to assist people seeking emergency services in communities (including Essex); provide additional funds to make the Pathways peer warm line available 24/7; and provide funding for additional housing and associated supported services in the Rutland County area. All programs have shown a significant ability to divert people from emergency services to provide the right care within the community. The Capital Budget invests in additional beds for those needing a therapeutic setting but don’t require a hospital level of care. These actions will have the combined effects of keeping individuals out of the ERs and improve the flow of patients between different types of facilities due to more available beds. These investments continue our commitment to increase resources to provide the right care at the right time for all those suffering a mental health illness.
I want to be clear though, I firmly believe gun violence and mental health are two distinct issues. Less than 4% of gun violence is connected to a mental health illness. There is a difference between someone suffering an illness such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, or severe and persistent depression and someone who is socially isolated, angry or resentful and chooses to act out with violence. As a society, we need to appropriately discuss, provide resources and craft effective policy for each population – as the needs and resources for one are most likely not the same in the other.
Recently Representative Giambatista, Dunn and I held a discussion on early childhood trauma and the long lasting effects toxic stress (i.e. poverty, abuse or neglect, exposure to violence, parental substance abuse) can have on an individual. EWSD held a school safety community conversation. I hope these types of conversations continue. We need to continue learning together.
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