Local officials push for increased state money to combat mental illness

administrator, 07/13/2015 10:09 pm

SALEM — Carrie Barnhart said she heard voices in her head that told her to jump off the Astoria Bridge.

This was not a secret. Her family knew. So did the police and mental health experts.

Four times since January, Astoria police responded to Barnhart’s suicidal threats. The last time, in April, police found Barnhart walking alone on the bridge after midnight and took her to Columbia Memorial Hospital, where police said she was evaluated by Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and released after two hours.

A week later, Barnhart was dead. Just as she warned, the 54-year-old mother of six jumped off the bridge.

Oregon, long faulted for gaps in mental health services, has sought to move toward a more community-based system of intervention and care.

Over the past two years, the Legislature has made a $60 million investment toward improving the state’s response to mental illness and addiction, and some lawmakers, including state Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, have called for $94 million for the next two years.

Counties and cities have tried to make increased state funding for mental health a priority in this year’s session, but the amount will likely depend on the state’s financial outlook and end-of-session budget negotiations.

The League of Oregon Cities, in its “State of the Cities” report in January, found that the state’s mental health system does not provide sufficient resources to meet the immediate needs of people in crisis, causing a strain on city services, especially law enforcement.

Police say they often repeatedly encounter the same people struggling with mental illness.

“We talk about it really needing to be flexible and community driven,” said Stacy Michaelson, the human services policy manager for the Association of Oregon Counties. “Local law enforcement, local mental health, need to be at the table together jointly deciding what is most needed in their particular community.”

Some of the new investment could go toward supported housing, jail diversion and crisis services. Scott Winkels, the public safety lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, said cities would like to see money for mobile crisis intervention units and other outreach where mental health experts respond to incidents alongside police.

One of the objectives is to help divert the mentally ill into treatment, rather than jail or commitment to the state hospital or other institutional settings.

But legislation is also moving that would expand the definition of a person with mental illness for purposes of civil commitment. The bill — House Bill 3347, sponsored by state House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-West Eugene and Junction City — would broaden the definition to apply to people who are unable to meet the basic personal needs necessary to avoid serious physical harm in the near future and are not receiving care to avoid such harm.

State Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, who serves on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means’ subcommittee on human services, is among the lawmakers who believe increased state funding for mental health should be a priority.

“I think mental health is at the top,” he said. “It’s one of the key things.”

Olson, a retired Oregon State Police officer, understands, though, that for some people with mental illness, “it’s almost like you can’t do enough. An individual is going to eventually do what they want to do.

“You can only prevent so much.”

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Linn County takes lead in marijuana MIP legislation effort

administrator, 07/13/2015 10:08 pm

Linn County officials are encouraged by the progress of a legislative proposal that will allow schools to deal with students who have consumed marijuana in the same way they handle intoxicated students.

The House of Representatives recently approved House Bill 2313 on a 60-0 vote.

“This all got started after I talked with West Albany Principal Susie Orsborn,” explained Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist. “She told me about the challenges schools face when it comes to dealing with kids who come to school with marijuana in their systems.”

Currently, schools can suspend the students, but they can’t push the matter into the legal system or get the student help through the local Juvenile Department.

“This has been a challenge for schools for a long time,” Nyquist said. “I just hope this issue doesn’t get tripped up by a couple of ideologues in the Senate.”

Nyquist said he took his concerns to Torri Lynn, director of the Linn County Juvenile Department and Rep. Andy Olson.

On April 20, Lynn testified before the House Judiciary Committee, of which Olson is vice chairman.

Lynn told lawmakers that research on adolescent brain development indicates “that the teenage years are among the most critical and susceptible times for a youth’s brain.”

“The teenage brain is at a higher risk for damage when chemicals such as drugs and alcohol are introduced into the body,” Lynn said.

He emphasized that marijuana today is not like that of the 1960s or 1970s when the THC level content was about 4 percent. (THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the principal psychoactive constituent in cannabis.)

“Today’s marijuana has anywhere from 15 percent THC content for street-level marijuana to 80 percent THC content in some medical marijuana dispensaries,” Lynn said. “With processing, the THC extract can reach 90 percent in the concentrated form called ‘Dabs.’”

Lynn said that although coming to school high from marijuana is a violation of school policy, it is not a violation of current laws.

“Violations of the law would generate a referral to the county Juvenile Department, which would screen the youth and could lead to a referral for a drug and alcohol evaluation and provide education or other services identified by the worker,” Lynn said.

Lynn said his department can provide numerous services to help a young person.

“The Juvenile Department would have the ability to support the young person’s sobriety by conducting random urine analysis tests to make sure they have discontinued use and provide consequences if they fail to comply, such as loss of driving privileges or a fine,” Lynn said. “Schools are more likely to readmit a youth into a school knowing there are additional supports and structure in place for the youth.”

Rep. Olson, R-Albany, is a major supporter of the bill.

“The legalization of marijuana is coming and we are concerned about our young people,” Olson said. “This is an important time of their life in terms of development. We are concerned about the safety and welfare of their families. I don’t want us to continue to have the second highest high school dropout rate in the country.”

Olson said research shows young people who regularly use marijuana may drop their IQ rate by as many as nine points.

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Oregon Lawmakers Propose Alternative To Prison For Offenders Raising Children

administrator, 07/13/2015 10:05 pm

Before he was elected to the Oregon statehouse, Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, spent 29 years as an officer and lieutenant with the Oregon State Police.

During those years, particularly during his time in Klamath Falls and Cottage Grove, he says, Olson saw children affected when their parents were arrested for criminal offenses.

“You wished we could have had a track in place to have helped and kept families together. There’s consequences with committing crimes, but you have to ask yourself is there some means we can break the cycle?” he says.

Olson is now the Republican co-sponsor of a House bill that creates a separate track for offenders who are parents with custody of their children.

Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, is the driving force behind the measure known as HB 3503.

The bill gives judges the discretion to sentence eligible parents facing prison sentences of a year or more to 24 months of probation instead. It also gives the Department of Corrections the ability to reduce sentences by six months for some parents who are already serving time.

“It’s focused on children, and keeping the family together,” Williamson says. “I know that is a bipartisan issue.”

The representatives say the bill builds on work they did last session shortening some prison sentences slightly in an effort to slow the growth of Oregon’s prison population. Williamson and Olson say their new proposal could improve outcomes for families and save the state more money by reducing the amount of women in prison and avoiding the costs associated with placing the children of inmates in foster care.

To be eligible, offenders would have to show that they had physical custody of their child at the time of their offense, and had never been convicted of a violent crime or sex crime.

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Nightmare neighbor secretly filmed teen for years

administrator, 07/13/2015 10:04 pm

BEAVERTON, Oregon – For four years, hidden cameras recorded Madison Reed’s most private moments, beginning when she was just 13 years old.

The cameras, placed by a neighbor in the teenager’s bedroom and in a beach house, are now gone, but the painful memories remain.

“It’s disgusting,” Madison said. “I don’t like to think about it, but I think about it all the time. Like all day.”

According to law enforcement investigators, Bradley McCollum, a family friend, set up a camera at his Clatsop County beach house in 2010 to secretly record Reed as she visited with McCollum’s family. In 2014, he added a second camera, this one placed inside Madison’s bedroom in her Washington County home.

On Tuesday, McCollum, 48, pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court to two burglary charges and two counts of “invasion of personal privacy” for setting up the cameras. He will be sentenced on March 10 and is expected to receive two years in prison as part of a plea agreement.

“I don’t know why it’s not child pornography. I was underage at the time and the intent of what he did was so obvious.”

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Upskirting would be outlawed under Oregon bill: ‘People are outraged that this exists

administrator, 07/13/2015 10:02 pm

A student takes a photo up a teacher’s skirt in Albany. In a Beaverton Target store, a man aims his camera up the skirt of a 13-year-old.

Neither deed amounts to a crime.

But now Oregon lawmakers are stepping in to outlaw the phenomenon that’s come to be known as upskirting.

House Bill 2596 would amend the state’s invasion of privacy law, adding language to describe upskirting — the voyeuristic act of secretly snapping pictures on a camera pointed up someone’s skirt.

“People are outraged that this exists,” said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, “and everyone wants to do something about it.”

Buckley is sponsoring the bill along with Republican Rep. Andy Olson of Albany.

It was inspired by what happened in an Albany classroom, the lawmakers said, where a teacher was the subject of an upskirt photo that circulated among students.

“One of the boys in the class happened to set this teacher up and take upskirt photos and then all of a sudden — boom — it’s sent out to everybody,” Olson said.

A group of teachers contacted Buckley wanting to make the scenario illegal. The legislator was surprised it wasn’t already.

“To me it’s a fairly straightforward situation,” he said. “It’s come up and we have to address it.”

States across the country have pushed to criminalize upskirting: Wisconsin legislators are also tackling the issue this year. In Massachusetts, a ban was passed last year. A Texas upskirting law was thrown out last summer after an appeals court decided it violated free speech rights.

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