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Where will Idaho legislature take mental health discussion?

Americans everywhere are talking about Friday’s shooting in Connecticut, and over the past few days that conversation has turned to discussion about the role access to mental health services may play in mass tragedy.

Colorado governor John Hickenlooper on Monday announced a plan to improve mental health services there.

But what about Idaho? Will the subject reach the statehouse this year?

Mental health services, along with many others, took a hit with budget cuts last year.

As the subject is thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Friday’s shooting, state representative Jeff Thompson (R-Idaho Falls) said Idahoans must lead the discussion.

“I think it will benefit any state that tries to be a leader in mental health,” said Thompson.

Thompson said he’s heard from many constituents about one issue since Friday: mental health.

“I’m receiving e-mails, I’m receiving letters, people are calling,” said Thompson. “I believe that’s what’s happening around the state, people are contacting their representatives.”

Thompson said those phone calls and e-mails can help to frame a discussion about improving mental health services in Idaho come the 2013 legislative session.

“If you really look at the situation, whether it be Colorado or Connecticut, if you look at those situations, if those individuals maybe thought they had an out, and talk to somebody, maybe those things wouldn’t have happened,” said Thompson.

He said services like Idaho’s newly resurrected suicide hotline could save untold lives.

“From that standpoint, it doesn’t take a lot of money to keep the other from happening,” he said.

However the conversation happens, Thompson said it will likely be a priority after Friday’s shooting.

“If people can have access to automatic-firing rifles, and yet (Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza’s) mother may have known there were some mental health issues, we have to look at that, and balance that out,” he said.

Iona representative Thomas Loertscher took the discussion one step further on Wednesday. He said he’d like to see more support for Idaho’s mental health court programs for offenders.

The Idaho legislature begins their 2013 session begins Jan. 7.

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