Walker proposes spending more on mental health, Assembly creates task force
MADISON Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he will propose increasing funding for mental health services across the state by nearly $29 million, a move motivated in response to a series of mass shootings in recent months including two in Wisconsin.
Walker told the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Counties Association that he's been looking into the state's mental health needs for more than a year, but the effort took on added urgency following the shootings.
There were two mass shootings in Wisconsin last year — one at a Brookfield spa in which three people were killed and another at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek in which six worshippers were slain. In each case, the assailant killed himself. The December attack in which a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., brought even more attention to issues related to mental health services and gun control.
While President Barack Obama proposed a series of gun control measures now before Congress, Republicans and others including Walker said there needed to be more focus on getting mental health services to troubled people before they turn violent.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday also announced the creation of a new lawmaker-led task force he hoped would work in concert with Walker's proposals and take a broad look at the issue. The group is to propose changes by the end of May.
"We recognize that the current system for treating those with mental illness simply isn't getting the job done," Vos said.
Walker met last month with mental health professionals, advocates and consumers from around Wisconsin. The governor said he thought his proposal for additional funding would improve public safety.
In a related measure, a state Assembly task force called together by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos will examine mental health issues in Wisconsin and make recommendations by the end of May.
Vos announced the task force on Wednesday and its first meeting will be Feb. 27.
Vos says he is open to Walker's proposal and he hopes the task force will work in concert with the governor.
Task force co-chairwoman Democratic Rep. Sandy Pasch says she supports Walker's proposal but hopes he also expands Medicaid coverage which also assists those with mental illnesses.
The task force is chaired by Republican Rep. Erik Severson.