Governor Carney Signs Legislation Aimed at Improving Mental Health Resources for Delawareans

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Governor John Carney has given final approval to three bills, the purpose of which is to increase mental health resources for students and improve access to behavioral health care. The governor this morning signed into law House Bill 3House Bill 4, and House Substitute 2 for House Bill 160. Governor Carney says this package of legislation strengthens the state’s mental and behavioral health services so that they can identify, support, and help students in and out of the classroom.

Additional Information from the Delaware House of Representatives House Majority Caucus

The new laws, House Bill 3House Bill 4, and House Substitute 2 for House Bill 160, will increase mental health resources for students and help more Delawareans access behavioral health care in their time of need. 

“My highest priority is making sure we give students everything they need to be successful,” said Governor Carney. “This package of legislation strengthens our mental and behavioral health services so that we can identify, support, and help students in and out of the classroom. I want to thank Speaker Longhurst and the members of the Delaware General Assembly for their advocacy and hard work on behalf of our students.” 

“Today we took another critical step forward, not just in policy, but in our commitment to creating a future where every Delawarean has access to the mental health care and resources they need,” said Rep. Longhurst. “The bills Governor Carney signed today will help to deliver the compassionate, comprehensive mental health support residents need and deserve, but we’re not stopping here. Just as we have for the last several years, we’re going to continue to address the mental health crisis in our state with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.” 

HB 3 will help students prioritize their mental health by providing them with excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons. To ensure that students struggling with their mental health get the help they need, this measure requires that any student taking more than two of these excused absences be referred to a school-based mental or behavioral health specialist. 

HB 4 will ensure that students have access to behavioral health support in their schools in the aftermath of a school-connected traumatic event, defined as the death of any student, educator, administrator, or other building employee of a public school or other traumatic event that affects a significant portion of the students of the school. 

“During my 25-year tenure as a public school teacher, I saw firsthand how mental health played a crucial role in a student’s ability to meaningfully learn and develop,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, chair of the Senate Education Committee and Senate prime sponsor of HB 3 and HB 4.  

“With House Bill 3 and House Bill 4, we are ensuring Delaware’s youngest minds have access to the mental and behavioral support they need to thrive both in and outside of the classroom.” 

Under HB 4, the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) will be tasked with developing guidance, best practices, and written resources for schools dealing with a school-connected traumatic event. DOE will also be responsible for covering the costs of grief counseling offered to students at the school for up to 45 days after a school-connected event, with an option to renew for an additional 45 days. 

“We’re grateful to Speaker Longhurst for, once again, taking important steps to support youth mental health in Delaware,” said Angela Kimball, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Inseparable. “This year’s legislation showcases the Speaker’s leadership and dedication to youth mental health, which not only makes Delaware a better place to grow up but also is putting Delaware on the map as a national leader in mental health.” 

HB 3 and HB 4 are part of a larger package of bills known as the 2023 Delaware Behavioral Health Package. Collectively, the measures encompass a holistic approach to improving the way mental health care is delivered and addressed for children in Delaware. 

Sponsored by Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, House Bill 160 (S) will create a dedicated funding source for the state’s new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

In 2020, Congress passed the 988 National Suicide Designation Act, requiring a new, universal three-digit calling code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, similar to how 911 is utilized for public safety emergencies. However, state and local governments were responsible for implementing the 988 system, which launched July 2022, though Congress allowed states to assess a fee on cellphone bills to recover the costs related to 988 and associated crisis services. 

HB 160 (S) will carry out that mandate by implementing a 60-cent monthly surcharge on cell phone and landlines and a 60-cent fee on prepaid services, mirroring the fees currently collected to support 911 emergency services.  

Under HB 160 (S), funds collected from the surcharge will be deposited in a Behavioral Health Crisis Intervention Services Fund used to support the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and provide a plan for an integrated continuum of services to assist Delawareans experiencing a behavioral health crisis. 

In addition to helping to fund that expansion, HB 160 (S) creates a 20-member board made up of state health officials, behavioral health experts, medical professionals, law enforcement and others. The board is tasked with developing a comprehensive statewide crisis intervention services plan and recommending to the Governor and the General Assembly how best to allocate funds from the surcharge. 

“The creation of the 988 hotline wasn’t just a symbolic gesture — this has been a critical tool to help people get the same level of urgent and individualized care that they would if they were to call 911,” said Sen. Poore. “I’m proud to work alongside Speaker Longhurst to make the 988 hotline a more sustainable resource here in Delaware. We must continue to invest in our state’s mental health infrastructure, and I thank Governor Carney for signing this next important step into law.” 


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