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Vocal Virginia Advocacy Update: January 26, 2024

We are almost three weeks into the 2024 General Assembly session, and Vocal Virginia is monitoring dozens of bills that impact mental health in the state. As peers and members of Vocal Virginia, we look to you to support our advocacy on a broad range of subjects impacting individuals with lived experience of mental health challenges.

As noted above, Vocal Virginia maintains a robust legislative list, which you may reference by clicking here. However, a few bills in particular that you may be interested in advocating for include the following.  Vocal Virginia is interested in two pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the issue of barrier crimes as they relate to peer recovery specialists. Vocal Virginia and the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia recently collaborated on a survey aimed at measuring the degree to which barrier crimes affect employers. We encourage you to read the full report here.

First, Delegate Cia Price has introduced HB1269, which will allow individuals who have had more than three years elapse since certain convictions to work at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) licensed facilities. This bill was reported out of the House Committee on Health and Human Services’ Subcommittee on Health Professions by a margin of 8-0. Senator Todd Pillion has introduced SB626 in the Senate, which is similar to Delegate Price’s bill except, among other things, it includes a five-year waiting period between the conviction and being able to work. It also does not include as many crimes on the list. This bill is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.

Vocal Virginia is also committed to decriminalizing mental health. Delegate Marcus Simons has introduced HB81, which abolishes the common-law crime of suicide. This bill reported out of the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee by a margin of 7-1. Delegate Vivian Watts’s HB267 offers certain protections to individuals who may have otherwise been charged with assault and battery against a police officer while in mental health crisis. This bill is currently pending in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee.

As many of you already know, now is the time to get in touch with your Member of the House of Delegates and your Senator on these important topics. If you would like your representative’s contact information, you may find it here. You may also gather relevant information using Virginia’s Legislative Information System. Here you can stay up to date on the status of legislation as well as Committee meetings. You may also sign-up to speak or leave written comments. You may visit the Legislative Information System by clicking here.

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