Expansion of behavioral health program removed from bill

A bill seeking to make a children’s behavioral health screening and referral program permanent was amended April 29 to terminate in 2015.

In 2013, the Legislature created the Behavioral Health Screening and Referral Pilot Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to develop ways to address unmet children’s behavioral health needs that could be replicated statewide.

LB240, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would remove the Sept. 6, 2015, termination date for the program and an existing cap on the number of clinic sites.

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher offered an amendment during select file debate that would change the 2015 termination date to 2017. The pilot project was poorly structured, he said, and too many questions remain unanswered regarding the success of the program.

“I think it’s perfectly obvious … that this pilot program is inconclusive and hasn’t given us the kind of data we need to make it a permanent program,” Schumacher said.

Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston supported the amendment, saying the pilot program lacked the proper metrics to evaluate its success.

“As we all know, [once] an item or a program is enacted into law, it is very, very difficult to back out of that situation,” he said.

Hansen opposed the amendment. The pilot program has proven to be an important tool in bridging the gap between screening and treatment, he said, and should be available across the state.

“The real issue at hand is the efficacy of this program,” he said.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell also opposed the amendment, saying the pilot program grew out of the state’s safe haven “debacle” in 2008. In the years following passage of the law, she said, it became clear that Nebraska needed to do more to identify and treat behavioral health disorders in young people.

“This is not a new rodeo,” Campbell said. “This is an extension of a program that has been very successful.”

The Schumacher amendment was adopted 26-9.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield offered a motion to bracket the bill until June 5, saying senators should have access to more data before making a decision on the fate of the pilot program.

“The bill would still be alive next session when we would have the required information,” he said.

The bracket motion failed 14-31. Lawmakers voted 26-14 to advance the amended bill to final reading.

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