Arizona panel endorses mental health reporting in higher education - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Arizona panel endorses mental health reporting in higher education

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Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 10:54 pm | Updated: 3:05 pm, Thu Feb 17, 2011.

A House panel voted Wednesday to require community colleges and universities to inform mental health specialists when students, faculty or others are suspended or expelled because of threats of violence.

But there won't be any automatic denial of the ability to purchase a gun or bullets.

The unanimous action by the Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety comes slightly more than a month after six were killed and 13 injured, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in a Tucson shooting. Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, noted that Jared Loughner, charged in that case, had a history of run-ins with officials at Pima Community College over allegedly violent behavior, eventually resulting in his expulsion.

Heinz's original measure would have required officials at any school to notify the Department of Public Safety when a person "suffered a significant or severe psychological episode or incident.'' The idea, he said, was to create a database which licensed gun dealers would have to check before making a sale.

That plan, Heinz conceded, ran into problems.

"It created a presumption of crazy,'' he said, allowing education officials to put someone's name on a do-not-sell-to list without any due process.

The new version in HB 2559 is far more circumspect.

It would require state and local agencies, including public colleges, to file a report with local behavioral health agencies if someone has been expelled, suspended at least twice or fired because of violence or threats of violence. But those threats would have to be aimed at someone else.

Heinz said that means someone who kicks a trash can and is suspended, even twice, is not going to have his or her name forwarded to mental health experts.

Even in cases where it is, Heinz said, that doesn't mean anything more will happen.

He said behavioral health agencies have experts who can review the information and determine if further action is necessary. In most cases, Heinz said, the report will be set aside; in some, a specialists might try to contact the person or a family member.

It is only after some belief that a person is a danger to self or others, he said, that there might be an effort made to have the person committed temporarily for evaluation.

Even the watered-down version raised some concerns for Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista. He pointed out there is nothing in the measure which determines what exactly is a "threat of violence.''

"Some people would consider clothing worn by other people as a threat of violence,'' Stevens said. "Some people are very sensitive to things,'' he continued, and might seek to have the person wearing the item suspended.

Heinz, however, said he doubts anything like that would trigger the reporting requirement.

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