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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Kim Hammer (left), R-Benton, talks with Sen. Jonathan Dismang (center), R-Beebe, and Bob Ballinger (right), R-Berryville, during the Senate session on Tuesday, April, 9, 2019, at the State Capitol in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

A bill that would require the state Department of Human Services to warn community mental health centers about upcoming changes to their funding or contracts appeared doomed Tuesday after it stalled in a House committee.

Facing questions about some of Senate Bill 519's language, Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, withdrew the legislation from consideration by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor during the committee's final meeting of the legislative session.

Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, asked why the bill would delete language from current law that said funding provided to the centers must be distributed according to state procurement and budgeting laws.

Hammer said he didn't want the bill to create "unintended consequences" and acknowledged he had run out of time during the final days of the session to address the concerns.

Passed by the Senate on Monday, the bill would have required the Human Services Department's Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services to meet annually with the state's 12 community mental health centers "to determine appropriate changes in funding for each fiscal year."

The centers would have reported quarterly to the House and Senate public health committees on the adequacy of their funding for fiscal 2020, which starts this July, and fiscal 2021.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

The Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services Division would have been required to submit new community health center contracts exceeding $25,000 to the Legislative Council or Joint Budget Committee for review at least 30 days before the contract is executed.

The division would also have had to notify community mental health centers at least 45 days in advance of any changes to their contracts. Such modifications also would have had to be submitted to the Legislative Council or Joint Budget Committee, along with any comments by the centers on the changes.

The centers for years have received funding through the Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services Division appropriation bill. In 2017, the Legislature removed special language from the bill that had allocated funding for each center.

In January, the division put the centers' contracts -- worth a total of about $26 million a year -- out for a competitive bid, scheduled to be awarded on Friday.

Services under the contracts include crisis screenings, forensic evaluations, support for patients discharged from the Arkansas State Hospital and mental health services for the uninsured.

In its original form, SB519 would have prevented funding for the centers from being cut in fiscal 2020 or 2021, but that provision was removed through an amendment.

Kathy Harris, chief executive of Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare System in Pine Bluff, said the centers are in "dire straits," but "it is not our intent to change these laws per se."

"We are simply seeking to have an opportunity to have some input into our destiny," she said.

A Section on 04/10/2019

Print Headline: Bill on mental-health funding pulled

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