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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: April 14, 2015 03:10 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Violence prevention initiatives
On January 29, 2013 the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 6, which I introduced, directing the Joint State Government Commission “to study the issue of violence prevention, to establish an advisory committee to conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the underlying causes of violent crime, including mass shootings, and to report to the Senate with its findings and recommendations.” In December 2013 the Joint State Government Commission released its report entitled “Violence Prevention in Pennsylvania: Report of the Advisory Committee on Violence Prevention.” The 300-page report made 44 recommendations in the areas of media coverage of violent incidents; mental health; gun ownership; and school safety.

I plan to re-introduce legislation based on many of the recommendations in the report. This bill codifies the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA) into Title 50 (Mental Health) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. In so doing, the bill adds provisions relating to a “duty to warn” and Kendra’s Law. According to the violence prevention report, “A mental health professional has a duty to warn a third party of potential harm by the professional’s patient where a specific and immediate threat of serious bodily injury has been conveyed by the client to the professional regarding a specifically identified or identifiable victim (subject to the standard of care of the profession).” Twenty-four states have statutorily mandated a duty to warn. The advisory committee recommended “that including this duty in a statute would provide better clarity and guidance to persons required to interpret the rule.”

The bill also includes Kendra’s Law, legislation that encourages the use of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). The advisory committee recommended that the MHPA “should be thoroughly reviewed to determine whether to amend involuntary commitment standards to assure greater access to treatment or to add alternatives, such as assisted outpatient treatment.” In the last session I introduced Kendra’s Law (Senate Bill 77) and I am incorporating the substance of that legislation into this bill. This law was named after Kendra Webdale, a young woman who died in January 1999 after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a person who was living in the community at the time but who was not receiving treatment for his mental illness.

The purpose of AOT is to provide treatment before harm or violence occurs and without unnecessarily institutionalizing individuals with severe mental illness. The standard for placing an individual in AOT is easier to meet than the current clear and present danger standard. An individual may be ordered to participate in outpatient treatment if the court finds that there is a history of not complying with treatment and the treatment is necessary to prevent a relapse or deterioration which may result in harm to himself or to others.

The proposal to codify the MHPA into the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes is made in another Joint State Government Commission report. In its May 2014 report entitled, “Mental Health Services and the Criminal Justice System in Pennsylvania,” the commission stated that the codification “attempts to modernize the style and language of the law, as well as clarify specific provisions and reconcile perceived internal inconsistencies in the statute.”

Introduced as SB750