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Governor Hickenlooper Asks Lawmakers For $18.5 Million To Expand Mental Health Care

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Colorado's Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper announced an $18.5 million plan Tuesday to expand the state's mental health services in response to recent mass shootings across the country.

"The commonality in all these mass homicides... mental health illness seems to be at the heart of all these incidents," Hickenlooper said during the press conference.

The 5-point plan Hickenlooper and state health officials are proposing -- called “Strengthening Colorado’s Mental Health System: A Plan to Safeguard All Coloradans” -- would include the establishment of a state-wide mental health crisis hotline, opening five 24-hour urgent mental health care centers and substance abuse centers.

If approved by state lawmakers, the plan would also authorize the Colorado State Judicial System to transfer mental health commitment records electronically and directly to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in real-time so the information is available for firearm purchase background checks conducted by Colorado InstaCheck.

Hospital beds for prisoners in Denver with psychiatric needs would be increased by 20 beds, the state would develop residential services for those transitioning from institutional care, add 107 housing vouchers for those with serious mental illness and develop a consolidated mental health and substance abuse data system.

“For the past five months, in response to the Aurora shooting, we have been working to expand mental health care and services across Colorado,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “No single plan can guarantee to stop dangerous people from doing harm to themselves or others. But we can help people from falling through the cracks. We believe these policies will reduce the probability of bad things happening to good people.”

The governor was accompanied onstage by Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

“Our goal is to help ensure we have the capacity and quality of mental health supports, services and resources to meet the needs of Coloradans, thereby keeping communities safer for everyone,” Bicha said. During the press conference, Bicha added that "one in four people every year will be personally impacted by a mental health issue."

A report by "Advancing Colorado's Mental Health Care," found that in 2011, nearly 1.5 million Coloradans were in need of treatment for mental health or substance abuse.

"There are a lot of arguments that we should have more guns to make things safer," Hickenlooper said. "But the young man in Connecticut, his mother had the guns in her house. Mental health connects almost all of these terrible tragedies."

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