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Vocal Virginia Advocacy Update: February 9, 2024

Thank you for your advocacy over the past few weeks! Vocal Virginia continues to track several bills that you may review here. As many of you know, cross-over will be taking place at the General Assembly on February 13th. This means that all of the bills that are to proceed in the process must pass their house of origin by this time. We are pleased to report that a number of bills that will improve the mental healthcare system are still alive and making their way through the legislative process.


One of these bills is Delegate Marcus Simon’s HB81, view here, which abolishes the common-law crime of suicide. This bill passed the House of Delegates 62-37 and is currently pending before the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice. Delegate Vivian Watts’s HB267, view here, which makes a mental health crisis an affirmative defense to the charge of assault and battery against a law enforcement officer. This bill reported out of the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee 5-3 and is currently pending before the House Courts of Justice Committee.


Senator Todd Pillion’s SB626, view here, which allows individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes to serve in Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) licensed facilities if their convictions are at least five years old passed the Senate 33-7 and will now go to the House for consideration. Delegate Cia Price’s HB1269, view here, which addresses barrier crimes by allowing individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes to work at DBHDS licensed facilities as long as their convictions are at least three years old passed the House 96-1 and is pending before the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.


Vocal Virginia appreciates your support in advocating for two budget amendments and a request made in the Governor’s Budget. The budget amendments fund the Medicaid High Needs Support Benefits which provide housing and employment supports to some of Medicaid’s high needs recipients facing mental health or substance use challenges. We ask that you contact Members of the House Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee and ask them to include Carr Item288#8h in the Budget. To review the amendment, please click here. You may contact Members of this subcommittee by clicking here.


We ask that you reach out to Members of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and Human Resources and ask them to support Deeds Item288#12s. To review the amendment, please click here. Members of this Committee’s contact information may be found by clicking here.


We support the Administration’s proposed general fund allocation of $ 3,433,525 in FY2025 and $3,302,053 in FY2026 to establish and operate two new peer wellness stay programs and to support the continued operation of the peer wellness stay program site operated by the Mt. Rogers Community Service Board. Known nationally as “peer respites,” peer wellness stay programs are peer-run and help provide an alternative to hospitalization for peers experiencing difficulty or finding themselves near crisis. See line “SS” in the Governor’s Budget Bill Item 297 by clicking here

Vocal Virginia also supports the Administration’s proposed budget language to remove administrative barriers and increase access to peer support services. In his budget, the Governor authorizes the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) to “adjust caseload limits for peer recovery specialists to align with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and the Department of Health Professions (DHP) and revised policies to reflect the need to operate within a crisis or emergency room setting. DMAS shall ensure that any provider caseload limit increase does not have any adverse impact on quality of care or program integrity.” See line “VVVV” in the Budget Bill Item 288 by clicking here.


To contact your legislator on these important issues, please click here. As a reminder, Vocal Virginia host bi-weekly advocacy calls to discuss current issues before the General Assembly. Please feel free to join us at 12pm on Friday, February 16, 2024 to discuss issues that are important to peers. Please feel free to share your own experience and bring your ideas to the table. You may join the Zoom call by clicking here.

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