By Shannon Muchmore

February 11, 2016

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's leadership is working with the White House to draft a mental-health reform bill.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are working together on the bill that will likely be marked up next month. It would incorporate various ideas from previously introduced mental-health legislation, and would include language addressing the opioid overuse epidemic.

Mental-health advocates and political watchers have said behavioral-health reform is one of a few issues that could make it through Congress before the presidential election. Many mental-health reform ideas have broad support in both parties, and the topic has increasingly come up in hearings and constituent meetings.

But one issue that has stymied progress is the inclusion of gun-control measures. Patient advocates say adding language on guns advances the stigma that mentally ill people are more likely to be violent.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced a bill, approved by the National Rifle Association, that would incentivize states to provide more mental-health record information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he believes Cornyn's bill would actually make it easier for mentally ill people to legally purchase guns, and that the bill's language does not belong in mental-health legislation.

Schumer encouraged support for a bill from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would create related law-enforcement training programs, and focus on diverting patients from the criminal justice system to mental-health treatment.

That bill, along with legislation from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would create a position of assistant secretary of mental health within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, are likely to be included in Alexander and Murray's new draft.