Resolution just a start for mental health care

January 29, 2018 GMT

With the exception of one lawmaker, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday supporting additional mental health services in western South Dakota.

The 62-1 vote came after the Rapid City Council and Pennington County Commission approved similar resolutions. The effort is being spearheaded by Rapid City attorney Al Scovel, who has made impassioned pleas to bring a state-supported mental health center to western South Dakota. Those who now need treatment from the state must be transported to the Human Services Center in Yankton, which is more than 350 miles from Rapid City. In some cases, that means putting patients in restraints while being hauled across the state by law enforcement. South Dakota is one of five states that allow those suffering from a mental health crisis to be held in jail, a clear sign that lawmakers and state officials have not made their care a priority.

Rep. Taffy Howard, a Rapid City Republican, cast the lone vote against the resolution that simply brings attention to a clear need. While it is a sign of progress that 62 lawmakers have officially acknowledged the problem, the resolution should only be considered the beginning of a process that brings a mental health center and more services to this area.

Perhaps, the Legislature can set aside such pressing legislation as drug tests for lawmakers, requiring public schools to allow “patriotic presentations” or whether they deserve a pay raise or not and give time to an issue of upmost concern in western South Dakota.

Will any West River lawmaker pick up the torch from Al Scovel and lead on this issue or are they more concerned about passing the same concealed carry bill that Gov. Daugaard vetoed last year and will likely veto again if put on his desk?

In fact, it would seem that gun advocates would embrace the opportunity to expand mental health care. Every time a mass shooting occurs in this nation, it is the NRA supporters who respond by saying this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. If they truly believe that, then they should help solve the problem. Otherwise, what the public hears is nothing more than a well-rehearsed talking point.

It is also an appropriate time for the three candidates for governor — Republicans Marty Jackley and Kristi Noem and Democrat Billie Sutton — to declare their support or opposition to a mental health center in western South Dakota. Will they lead, follow or dismiss the issue?

In the meantime, Gov. Daugaard should take the resolution seriously and at the very least appoint a task force to study it this summer with the goal of proposing legislation in 2019 to bring some sanity to the state’s approach to mental health care.