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Legislative Report District 13: Plans in the works to better assist those individuals in crisis

There are many topics which have been getting attention from your legislators and other stakeholders during the past few months. One of them concerns the procedures used to ensure the safety of all parties, when a law enforcement officer picks up someone who is acting in a way that is dangerous to him or others, either under the influence of drugs or alcohol or suffering from an illness. Currently, there are fewer crisis beds at a local hospital than what the demand is, so the problem is what to do. There is a process in place for moving people from a crisis situation to treatment centers, but it takes some time, and the problem is what can be done for individuals, if there is no place for them? Jails are not the appropriate place, because they are not set up to observe and cope with these issues.

The good news is that health care providers, human services centers, legislators, and law enforcement officers are beginning to work together to develop a more streamlined plan so that individuals in crisis will not fall through the cracks and also so that the professionals who are dealing with them will be safer. Mike Reitan, Assistant West Fargo Police Chief, brought this issue to my attention, and I appreciate our local police department's involvement in addressing this concern. Peace officers are attending training programs so that they are better able to evaluate and deal with individuals who might be mentally ill or under the influence, recognizing that those situations are different from dealing with someone who is committing a crime.

Another big issue is the recently passed health care reform law. There are many sections that will have an impact on North Dakota and its citizens, but even the federal staff members do not know exactly how everything will work. We are continuing to learn what it will mean to us, both in future services as well as costs. We do know that there will be significant costs to North Dakota for federal mandates that are not funded, but with which we will be required to comply. There is a long timeline for the various components of this new law, and as facts become clearer, that information will be made available to all of us.

Various components of child support are being studied to see how they can be managed more effectively, including providing medical coverage for children. Federal law requires that the non-custodial parent provide health insurance, but sometimes there are better coverage options available through the custodial parent or through the Children's Health Insurance program. Doing what is best for the children without being burdensome to the parents continues to be the goal. Also being reviewed, with the participation of business representatives, is the role of employers in reporting new hires so that people owing back child support can be identified. Two hundred and eighty million in back child support is currently owed in North Dakota. State dollars often end up being used to provide services to these children that would otherwise be paid by the funds from child support, so it is important to all of us to collect as much of that $282 million as possible.

Your legislators always appreciate hearing from you, so contact us, if you have something to share: Senator Judy Lee,, 282-6512; Rep. Kim Koppelman,, 282-9267; Rep. Alon Wieland,, 282-9470.