The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 26, 2013

Our View: Move quickly on background check reforms


— Proposed reforms in the state’s gun background check and mental health systems by a coalition of law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and legislators should be taken seriously and moved on quickly.

The group urged lawmakers at a press conference Wednesday to overhaul the state’s background check system to close gaping holes tracking the mentally ill and to reform the way the state, the courts and law enforcement deal with the mentally ill.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rick Stanek described the system as one where the mentally ill are lost in the system and end up being sent to jail instead of treatment, which actually makes their condition worse. He described it as a “public health issue and a public safety issue.”

The proposals were largely in response to a Star Tribune article last Sunday that showed a man convicted of murder and deemed mentally ill and dangerous by the state was able to buy some 13 weapons, some purchased legally with a valid permit.

The proposals would improve the BCA background check system requiring criminal conviction records be sent to the BCA within 24 hours. Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget allocates $11 million over the next four years to overhaul the BCA database.

That idea is a no brainer and can be worked on immediately.

The group also proposed several reforms for dealing with the mentally ill. Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam who oversees the county Mental Commitment Court said he sees the mentally ill wasting away throughout the system because of delays and those deemed mentally ill are often sent back to jail before treatment and their condition deteriorates.

The group proposes streamlining the mental competency procedures in court so those in need of treatment don’t spend weeks in custody waiting for it.

The group also proposed changing Minnesota’s civil commitment procedure from one where the mentally ill must be considered a danger to themselves and others to a “need-for-treatment” model adopted in 27 other states.

The coalition also recommends expansion of community treatment programs to fill the needs of a growing number of mentally ill cases and to have a place for the mentally ill to go instead of sitting in jail.

The mental health system is going to need more resources. Gov. Mark Dayton’s overall health and human services budget is mostly flat for the coming two years, but he has targeted expanding funding for school mental health services and mental health crisis centers.

That’s moving in the right direction.

School-linked mental health services would get an additional $7.4 million and mental health crisis centers would get $2 million that would allow for expansion in 16 additional counties. Another $2 million would allow people with psychiatric problems to transition out of hospital settings.

The proposals will improve treatment for the mentally ill and enhance public safety. They deserve to be acted on and implemented. That couldn’t happen too soon.