Governor proposes mental-health plan

$18.5 million plan strives to minimize harm from unstable individuals

Hickenlooper Enlarge photo


DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper announced plans Tuesday to improve the state’s psychiatric-crisis care and keep mentally unstable people from buying guns.

Hickenlooper and his Cabinet began working on the plan just days after the Aurora movie theater massacre in July, and they scheduled Tuesday’s announcement well before a gunman killed 20 children and seven adults and himself last Friday in Connecticut.

“We have a duty after tragedy to look at what we do, how we act and how we help others,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper wants Colorado courts to send mental-health commitment records to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in real time so they can be used for background checks of people who want to buy guns. Currently, the CBI gets the information twice a year on a CD-ROM.

Hickenlooper could not explain why it has taken so long to send the information to the CBI.

“There are too many things like that in government,” he said.

The governor wants to make several other changes that will cost $18.5 million and will need approval from the Legislature.

More than half the cost will pay for a statewide mental-health crisis hotline and five new walk-in centers where people can go during a mental-health crisis. Police could also bring people to the centers, which are supposed to take the pressure off jails and emergency rooms to provide mental-health treatment.

The Department of Human Services has not figured out what towns will get the centers.

About $4.8 million would be used for better services and housing for people rejoining the community after a stay in the psychiatric hospital.

Colorado currently has three laws for committing people to psychiatric treatment against their will. Hickenlooper’s plan would consolidate the laws into one statute, and it will protect the civil liberties of patients, said Reggie Bicha, director of the Department of Human Services.

No system will work perfectly to keep unbalanced people from hurting others, but this plan should reduce the risk, Hickenlooper said.

“We believe these policies will reduce the probability of bad things happening to good people,” he said.

On Thursday, just a day before the massacre in Connecticut, Hickenlooper said it was time to talk about gun-control laws. He has not offered a specific proposal on guns, but Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said the Legislature could consider a ban on assault weapons.