- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday signed seven bills into law that are designed to improve mental health services in Wisconsin.

The bills, which grew out of a special Assembly task force that examined mental health needs in the state, found nearly unanimous support in the Legislature.

“These bills, which I am proud to sign today, are a huge step forward in the cause to ensure every individual living with mental illness gets the care they need,” Walker said in a statement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who created the task force, said the Legislature will continue to look at other improvements that can be made.

“The goal of the mental health reforms is to increase access to care, provide for better coordination of care and hopefully, reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness,” Vos said in a statement.

The bills Walker signed would:

- Provide $1.5 million in tax-deductible grants to encourage psychiatrists and primary care physicians to practice in underserved areas. The money would go to up to 12 new physicians and up to 12 new psychiatrists a year.

- Spend $1 million over two years to create a hotline that psychiatrists treating children and teenagers with mental health issues could use for consultation. Supporters say this is important because of the lack of child psychologists in rural areas.

- Create a $970,000 grant program to help find jobs for people with serious mental illnesses.

- Provide $250,000 over the next two years to counties to create teams to serve people having mental health crises. Fifty-seven counties currently have mobile crisis teams established.

- Spend $250,000 over the next two years to pay for peer-run respite centers for people with mental health or substance abuse issues. The goal is to reduce dependence on the mental health system by having services provided by people who have completed recovery programs already.

- Provide $250,000 over two years to train correctional and law enforcement officials about how to effectively respond to citizens experiencing a behavioral crisis.

- Require the state Department of Health Services to report by the end of the year, and every two years after that, on what mental health services are being provided in every county.

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