- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - State senators heard on Friday a slate of bills to expand Montana’s mental health care system, many of which overlap with the governor’s plan.

Three Republican proposals and two Democratic bills were heard in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, which dedicated more than three hours to the measures.

Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman testified in favor of the three Republican bills that would open more mental health crisis centers and put additional beds in the four existing ones. Hoffman said West House, the crisis center located in his county, has had huge success rehabilitating people who would otherwise be transferred to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.

“I think the big difference has been just simply the fact that these people are receiving treatment close to home,” Hoffman said. Later he added, “We’re softening these situations as they come up instead of letting them get to a huge crescendo.”

House Bills 33, 34 and 35 cover short-term community care that was also included in a mental health package that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock proposed in January.

About half of the governor’s $20 million funding plan was stripped in budget subcommittees. But if the representatives’ and governor’s proposals are all approved in current form, the state would spend about $19.7 million to bolster mental health care in the upcoming biennium.

Committee members also heard testimony on Democratic-sponsored House Bill 24, which would fund group homes for people in transition, and House Bill 47 to initiate a pilot program to address youth psychiatric crises.

All five bills passed out of the House of Representatives with unanimous or nearly unanimous support last month.

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