Following the second mass shooting in Virginia in as many weeks that left 7 dead midday Wednesday, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his administration plans to propose legislation in the General Assembly this winter to bolster resources in mental health.
While offering few details to reporters following an annual Thanksgiving ceremony, Youngkin said his program would provide more resources, address staffing issues and recognize that people experiencing mental health crisis need same-day processing.
“It’s extremely important,” Youngkin said. “We know we’ve been through a mental health crisis and we need to take very immediate action.”
Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears said in a statement Wednesday: “I am committed to making mental health issues a priority of my office and will work with the Governor, Attorney General, General Assembly and local leaders to address this crisis.
When asked if he was open to legislation restricting access to firearms, Youngkin said “now is not the time” to talk about these issues as investigations are still ongoing.
“I basically believe there will be a time to talk about these things. I believe people who are trying to bring them up are trying to talk about things that really have time,” Youngkin said. This is not the time. Today is the time to support families and bring people together. There will be a time to talk about these things.
The comments followed a mass shooting at a Walmart in Chesapeake on Tuesday night. Seven people died, including the shooter, who self-inflicted a wound. Four people remain hospitalized, WAVY 10 reported Wednesday morning.
On November 13, a University of Virginia student shot and killed three former football teammates and injured two on a bus returning from a school trip in Washington DC. The alleged shooter, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is in custody, and Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office is conducting an external investigation into the shooting at the request of the university.
And earlier this year, two Bridgewater College police officers were killed in a campus shooting. The alleged shooter faces charges in Rockingham County.
Pressures on the mental health system
Virginia’s mental health system has been under tension for several yearswith problems culminating in July 2021 when understaffing forced the state to temporarily close five of its psychiatric hospitals to new admissions for security reasons.
Staffing shortages overwhelm Virginia psychiatric hospitals
Demands on public hospitals have also increased. Since Virginia’s “beds of last resort” law went into effect in 2014, which requires state psychiatric facilities to admit patients after an eight-hour period if no bed can be found in ‘other institutions, the number of patients admitted to remand orders increased by nearly 400%.
The biennial budget adopted by the General Assembly in June included salary increases by 37% on average for direct care staff in public mental health facilities to stem losses. No increase was included for staff of community service commissions, local agencies that serve people with behavioral health issues in the community.
Mental health issues among students were also one of the main issues highlighted by the Joint Commission on Legislative Review and State Audit in a recent study of the impact of COVID-19 on schools in Virginia. JLARC found these issues to be of “concern” among students. At a time, some districts are losing mental health providers because of what these providers are saying, there are changes in the way the state manages its provision of these services.
Violence Reduction Efforts
Virginia passed away major gun control reforms in 2020 when the state was controlled by Democrats. The legislation imposed universal background checks on gun sales, instituted red flag orders, required gun owners to report lost or stolen guns, increased certain gun penalties. fire and reinstated the previous law of one handgun per month. A proposal for a complete ban on assault weapons failed in the Senate.
In the last session, when power was shared between Democrats and Republicans, the parties agreed to include in the state budget $13 million to reduce shootings through a fund that could give grants to local governments, community groups and hospitals for gun violence reduction efforts and another fund focused on crime-fighting strategies.
The figure was well below the $27 million proposed by incumbent Governor Ralph Northam and pushed by Senate Democrats last session for a statewide gun violence prevention and response center within the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
This story has been corrected to note that the state closed mental hospitals to new admissions in July 2021, not July 2022.
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