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Legislation to assist in Marcus Alert implementation moves forward

SB 1302 (McPike) would provide additional funding for the crisis call center that will support implementation of last year’s Marcus Alert legislation and designate the call center as the 9-8-8 Crisis Hotline Center for purposes of participating in the national suicide prevention network.  In July 2020, the Federal Communications Commission designated 988 as the new nationwide phone number to call to be connected with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors; this new number is planned to be effective July 2022 (the current hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK).  The bill requires Virginia’s crisis call center to provide crisis intervention and crisis care coordination 24/7 to individuals who call the 988 hotline, and generally requires the crisis call center to meet requirements and standards set out by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network.  The bill requires the call center to collaborate with local community services boards on the ongoing care needs of individuals who contact the call center.

The bill would increase the current post-paid wireless E-911 surcharge from $0.75 per month to $0.94 and the pre-paid wireless E-911 fee from $0.50 to $0.63.  Twelve cents of the increase to the post-paid wireless surcharge and eight cents of the increase to the pre-paid wireless charge would be used to support the crisis call center.  The remainder would be deposited into the Wireless E-911 Fund and distributed to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) by the 9-1-1 Services Board.  Existing law requires 60 percent of this fund to be distributed via formula based on population and call load, and 40 percent to be distributed via grants.  The bill adds language to the provisions dealing with grant funding to stipulate that the Board must give highest priority to grants that support the regional or multijurisdictional deployment and maintenance of Next-Generation 911 (NG-911), with secondary priority to be given to grants that support the deployment and sustainment of NG-911 in a single jurisdiction and in-building repeaters that improve public safety radio coverage within buildings.

The legislation also provides some additional requirements for the mobile crisis and community care teams that will be established as part of the Marcus Alert system, directing the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to ensure that teams are designed in partnership with community members and staffed by personnel who reflect the demographics of the community that they serve.  Teams are required to collect customer service data from individuals served and to collaborate with local law-enforcement agencies in use of the crisis call center.

The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to House Health, Welfare, and Institutions.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and the Department of Criminal Justice Services are working to develop the implementation plan for the Marcus Alert system that was directed by the 2020 special session legislation.  A statewide stakeholder group has been convened (VACo is serving in an ex-officio capacity) to assist in the development of the plan, which is due July 1, 2021.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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