Senate Forwards 988 Bill to Rules and Judiciary for Approval

Sen. Diane Capehart speaks in support of Bill No. 35-0224 Wednesday during the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee hearing. (Photo by Alvin Burke Jr., Mario Fonseca and Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

The first few minutes of Wednesday’s Health, Hospitals, and Human Services Committee hearing were devoted to approving Bill 35-0224, which establishes a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team for the mobile crisis intervention service and the national 9-8-8 telecommunication system.

Sen. Diane Capehart sponsored the bill to “provide the infrastructure we need to start facing the challenges” of the many mental health issues in the territory. She also added an amendment following the national suicide guidelines.

The bill, originally discussed by the committee on Feb. 8, was held in committee by the Legislature. Since then, the hotline has gone live, and people can access urgent behavioral health services from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) by dialing 9-8-8.

According to the bill, the hotline will be maintained by the federal government’s assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network.

Capehart added amendments that defined crisis intervention training as 40 hours of specialized training and 20 hours of continuing education annually. Additionally, a 9-8-8 trust fund will be established to maintain the PERT system, hotlines, response teams and services. The fund will include fee revenue. Additionally, an annual report of deposits and expenses will be forwarded to the Legislature and the Federal Communications Commission. (The FCC enforces U.S. communication laws and regulations.)

The bill was approved by the senators attending the hearing and will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary and then the Committee of the Whole for final approval.

Sens. Marvin Blyden, Diane Capehart, Ray Fonseca (chairman), Novelle Francis, Marise James, and Milton Potter voted in favor.