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Mental health overhaul heads to Hickenlooper

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Lawmakers on the House floor Monday. The 2013 legislative session ends on Wednesday.

DENVER — A proposal to expand mental health services in Colorado by establishing a crisis response system passed the state House and heads to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 266 drew bipartisan support, passing the House on a final vote of 44-21 Monday morning.

The governor’s office and health officials began discussions on plans to increase mental health services within days of the July theater shootings.

The bill sets up walk-in and mobile crisis services, including a 24-hour crisis hotline. The bill passed the House Monday.

The bill’s sponsors say that the improvements are desperately needed, after revenue shortfalls in recent years led to deep cuts in mental health services.

“There are people sitting out there right now who need help that our mental health system is not able to provide,” said Rep. Tracy Kraft Tharp, D-Westminster. “We need a strong, comprehensive, integrated crisis system that provides appropriate and timely care.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and state mental health leaders called for the initiative in December to expand services, and lawmakers set aside about $19.7 million in the next budget year to implement.

The measure also seeks to increase public awareness about mental health services with informational campaigns on television, radio, and online.