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Summary: SB 646 would amend several portions of Texas code dealing with court-ordered mental health services. Under current law, courts can order patients to receive outpatient medical services and designate the person responsible to perform those services, and require them to create a “general program” of treatment. SB 646 clarifies what constitutes a general program and requires the person designated to provide services to submit the general plan to the court.
Currently, judges can "advise but not compel" certain patients to receive treatment, making some judges reluctant to order the use of assisted outpatient mental health treatment because they believe they do not have the authority to require patients to take their medications. SB 646 would allow a court to, on its own motion, set up a status conference with the patient, the patient’s designated mental health service provider, and the patient’s attorney. SB 646 would require courts to order a patient to comply with the general program incorporated into a court order, and if a patient does not comply, set up a modification hearing and issue an order for temporary detention, although the failure of a patient to comply is not grounds for punishment for contempt of court.
Under current law, once a temporary detention order is issued, a peace officer or other person designated by the order is required to take a patient into custody and transport them to a mental health facility. Currently, these patients may be detained for longer than 72 hours only if they find the patient to be mentally ill and a danger to himself or others. SB 646 would require a physician to evaluate a patient within 24 hours to determine whether the patient poses a substantial risk to the patient or others, and if the physician determines they do not pose a significant danger, release the patient, and notify the court and the person the court designated to provide the patient mental health services of the patient’s release from temporary detention.
Analysis: SB 646 makes some small improvements to Texas code that is inherently coercive because it is dealing with mentally ill patients that have entered the justice system. We believe that courts should have the authority ensure these patients adhere to the programs constructed to integrate them safely back into society. Moreover, SB 646’s provisions that require a faster process for determining whether a patient should actually be detained, and if not, released, is a positive step for the liberty of these patients. We support SB 646.