(Des Moines) -- Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law that establishes the framework for a children's mental health system in the state.
The governor signed the bill in a ceremony at the statehouse Wednesday -- the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month. House File 690 -- which was approved in the House on March 21st and Senate on April 16th -- creates a Children's Behavioral Health System State Board to oversee and implement the creation of a statewide system. Reynolds says the legislation is long overdue.
"The time has come to finally create a coordinated and comprehensive children's behavioral health system in Iowa," said Reynolds. "House File 690 establishes a first-of-its-kind children behavioral health system devoted to children struggling with mental health and parents who are forced to stand by helplessly."
In addition to requiring mental health regions to establish core services for children and fill existing gaps in children's mental health services, the bill establishes a 24-hour hotline for parents to locate services for their child. Reynolds praised members of the legislature for working to get the bill passed.
"Big things happen when people come together for the common good," said Reynolds. "I'm extremely, extremely proud of the non-partisan and far-reaching approach that resulted in House File 690."
In addition to signing the initial bill, Reynolds gave her seal of approval to a companion piece of legislation that allows counties to set aside tax dollars to get the program off the ground. Reynolds called the legislation groundbreaking.
"This landmark legislation will ensure that young Iowans who suffer from mental illness will be treated with dignity and respect on the journey to well-being for generations to come," said Reynolds.
State Senator Jeff Edler -- a Republican from State Center -- says the initial setup for funding the system is intentionally left vague to allow each mental health region some flexibility.
"When you're looking at putting on services for the regions, we want to give them some flexibility," said Edler. "Things aren't always stable. We've got to have flexibility, especially if you're looking at Medicaid dollars and possible fluctuations with the ACA. That's why this language is in there."
The new system would be available to children with families earning less than 500% of the federal poverty level. To be eligible, a child would need a previous diagnosis of serious emotional disturbance -- which does not include substance abuse or developmental disorders. Representative Joel Fry -- a therapist from Osceola -- says the law is not designed to replace existing youth mental health services, but is to help fill-in the gaps that exist throughout the state.
"In the state of Iowa, there are many, many, many, many quality children's mental health providers," said Fry. "There are services that exist today as it relates to children's mental health, so never let it be said that across the state of Iowa that we don't have high quality mental health services for children. What this bill seeks to do is to get a groundwork in place so that we are able to have quality mental health services across the entire state of Iowa, so that every children has equal access -- much like adults do in our adult mental health system."
Reynolds says she will work with legislators to find a more permanent funding solution for the new system before the 2020 legislative session begins.