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$50 million proposal for reforming the Baker and Marchman acts awaits the governor’s signature

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According to the Department of Children and Families, more than 170,000 individuals were involuntarily examined under the Baker Act during FY 2021-22

Rep. Patt Maney

Rep. Patt Maney

Not everyone who gets worked up during a domestic dispute needs a psychiatric evaluation, but once a 911 call comes in, police have little choice, says Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar.

Maney says that would change under HB 7021, a $50 million proposal for reforming the Baker and Marchman acts, that now awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.

“People get agitated, but a lot of times they simmer down,” Maney said. “Instead of saying law enforcement ‘shall’ take somebody in for an examination, an involuntary examination, the bill says they ‘may’ take them in.”

Giving law enforcement more discretion is just one of dozens of proposed changes in the 150-page bill, but it would make a significant difference, Maney said.

“I think that’s going to save money, as well as protect liberty.”

Other provisions would create an “Involuntary Services” statute and a streamlined petition process to make it easier for people to access treatment, Maney says.

“For one thing, it combines the process for individuals to go to either involuntary outpatient services, or involuntary inpatient services,” Maney says.

The bill would, among other things, give mental health service providers and judges easier access to records that would help them determine the most appropriate care, Maney says.

According to the Department of Children and Families, more than 170,000 individuals were involuntarily examined under the Baker Act during FY 2021-22.

DCF records show that the number of involuntary examinations across all age groups declined for the past three years, but not uniformly across the state.

Other important features of the bill would lift a 30-bed cap for “crisis stabilization units” and dedicate half of the $50 million appropriation to enhancing “involuntary services,” Maney said.

Due to lack of bed space, many Baker Act patients wait for hours in limbo in an inappropriate facility, where their symptoms only grow worse, Maney says.

“Under the current law, with the cap, there are many, many, many instances where somebody would be taken to a receiving facility, or a non-receiving facility like an emergency room at a hospital, and then they would be stuck there, just waiting for a bed, for a place to go to.”

The bill would also make it easier for people younger than 18 to access involuntary services.

Maney points to another House member’s constituent, a mother whose 17-year-old daughter was detained 20 times under the Baker Act since the beginning of the current school year.

Despite her severe illness, the teenager was released for lack of available beds, Maney says.

“That girl has previously stabbed her mother, that girl has previously tried to commit suicide. So, this additional money, hopefully, is going to come up with capacity to treat people like that.”

The bill would also create an “Office of Children’s Behavioral Health Ombudsman” within DCF to serve as a central point to receive complaints on behalf of children and adolescents with behavioral health disorders receiving state-funded services.

Another provision would dedicate $500,000 to the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of Central Florida to collect data, Maney says.

“Currently, they do not collect Marchman Act data, and for Baker Acts, they currently do not collect data on when somebody is taken for an involuntary examination that does not qualify because that person may have dementia, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, those sorts of things, which are specifically excluded from Baker Act,” Maney says.

By 2026, lawmakers would have the information they need to determine how many of those patients could better receive services through Florida’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Department of Elder Affairs, or Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Maney says.

On the other end of the system, the bill would require Baker Act patients to receive what Maney calls a “warm handoff.”

“You need to go see doctor so and so Tuesday morning at 9:15, here’s the address, here’s a sheet that reminds you of what day and time they are expecting you,” Maney says. “It just seems to me if somebody is having mental or emotional problems, we should be giving them the same level of information to follow up care as someone who has broken an arm or had a baby.”

The proposal is comprehensive, and the appropriation is substantial, but more reforms are needed, Maney said.

For example, Maney said, the bill originally called for the state to be a party in Marchman Act proceedings, but the provision was dropped as part of a compromise.

Family members often don’t know the Marchman Act well enough to convince a court to order a loved one into treatment, Maney said.

“But if you had a lawyer sitting there, a state attorney, they could go through the requirements. You know, a judge is not permitted to try and help one side or the other to prove its case,” Maney said.

In addition to being a former judge, Maney is a retired Army general who established the first veterans’ treatment court in Northwest Florida.

Maney said the reforms were inspired by his experience on the bench, his service on a Supreme Court committee, and his collaboration with Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, a noted expert on mental health and the courts. Leifman spent the past 23 years promoting the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery. Set to open later this year, the center will treat people who would otherwise cycle through the courts.

Sen. Erin Grall

Sen. Erin Grall

Maney says the bill contains many technical changes that are difficult to understand, especially people who are unfamiliar with court procedure or the language of behavioral health. Despite that, the bill cleared the House and Senate without a negative vote. Much of the credit, Maney says, belongs to House Speaker Paul Renner of Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, both of whom are attorneys, Maney said.

He is also quick to credit Senate sponsor Erin Grall, a Ft. Peirce attorney, and Rep. Tracy Koster, a Tampa attorney who chairs a key subcommittee.

“So, we’ve got to take care of both public safety and individual liberty, and it’s a difficult balance and I understand why people have questions,” he said. “I’m going to go back next time and try and get some of these other things that we didn’t get this time.”


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