A legislative proposal from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) has raised concerns about more government regulation of private, nonprofit groups that provide behavioral health services. A Senate committee officially chose to hold the proposal for now, but the committee presumably will vote on the proposal later in this year’s legislative session.
“I understand how my wording could have been misunderstood,” Ross Edmunds, administrator for the behavioral health division of IDHW told IdahoReporter.com. “I will have to discuss this with our attorneys and make sure that the proposed rule is properly worded.”
At issue are two agenda items IDHW has put before members of the Legislature.
For one, the department has proposed that the state appropriate funds to build three crisis behavioral health centers in the state, a proposal that is soon to be considered by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC).
Secondary to the funding are proposed rules governing those who might work at the centers. When Edmunds spoke before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee he asked the committee members to adopt the proposal via the legislative “rules” process, even though the funding for the crisis care centers has not yet been approved and the centers have not yet been established.
Under the legislative rules process, a proposal can be adopted merely with the approval of the germane House and Senate legislative committees. Rules, as such, do not require approval from the full Legislature.
During Edmonds’ presentation, several committee members, including Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, noted that it was unusual for a legislative committee to adopt rules for the regulation of a state program before the program itself is funded. Yet Edmunds requested three times that the committee adopt the rules anyway.
With a majority of committee members suggesting that the rules proposal should be held for future consideration, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked Edmunds, “Ross, can we bring this up again later?”
Edmunds responded: "Certainly, at the will of the committee. Again I would just say that even absent funding, I would hope that these rules would be considered before the committee, even if the state makes the decision to not do it, because there could be … let’s say a private, nonprofit decides to raise funds to develop a crisis center in the state of Idaho. We would like to have the infrastructure of rule to guide that, even if the state appropriation doesn't make the decision to fund the three crisis centers currently on the table."
The committee still agreed to hold the rules proposal. On Tuesday, a day after the committee hearing, Edmunds told IdahoReporter.com that he was not seeking to regulate private, nonprofit charitable groups. “I was thinking more in terms of a county, or perhaps a city that seeks to establish a crisis center. In that case we would want background checks performed on workers, which is what the rule involves. But if a church, for example, has a program that helps people in crisis, well we don’t want anything to do with that. We're trying to build an infrastructure to have the behavioral health service model out there.”
After the committee hearing, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, told IdahoReporter.com that “we have plenty of time to consider the rules that Mr. Edmunds was proposing. I supported holding them so we have more time to consider them carefully.”