ST. PAUL (AP) -- A lawmaker who two years ago had her own son involuntarily committed for mental illness passed a bill through a House committee Monday to lower the threshold for such action.
Rep. Mindy Greiling said the bill would allow people to get care for their loved ones before their mental condition deteriorates to a level at which they require drastic help.
Her own son was committed after smashing a chair and leaping across a nurse's desk when he was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Under the Roseville DFLer's bill, people would no longer have to be considered dangerous to others to face commitment; the standard would be lowered to take into account property damage. The House Civil Law Committee approved the bill on a voice vote.
"If a person doesn't think that they are ill, they aren't going to accept treatment," said Mary Zdanowicz, of the Treatment Advocacy Center based in a Washington, D.C., suburb in Virginia.
The organization is dedicated to eliminating barriers to treatment for those with severe mental illness. Legal changes in the 1970s and '80s made it more difficult to commit people, Zdanowicz said.
"In effect, the pendulum has swung too far," she said.
Backers recounted a series of recent murders in the state attributed to people with histories of mental illness.
"My profession does not do a particularly good job of predicting imminent danger," said Hennepin County psychiatrist Kevin Turnquist, describing the current standard. When people turn dangerous, he said, "We're usually caught by surprise."
But several people, including some who said they have been committed against their will, spoke against the measure, describing it as an infringement on personal freedoms. They also questioned how much it would cost the state to commit more people.
Judy Reiner described her own experience of being hospitalized and medicated for diagnosed mental illnesses that she said actually had a physical cause. "What we need to do is get good medicine going here, not Band-Aids," she said.
The state has not completed an estimate of the cost of the bill. Backers say that, depending on how one adds up the costs of mental illness, the measure could save the state money through lower jail costs.
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