Local Flexibility in Marcus Alert Implementation Advances in Different Versions

February 15, 2022

Two companion bills, HB 1191 (Ransone) and SB 361 (Stuart), are moving forward, although the bills are in different postures after action by the House Public Safety Committee and the full Senate, respectively.

As introduced, both bills would have made implementation of the Marcus Alert system an option for all localities.  Under current law, every locality must meet a July 1, 2022, deadline to establish local protocols for transferring calls from 911 to the 988 regional call centers (these protocols must integrate a framework to triage urgency that was developed by a statewide working group in 2021), protocols for law enforcement who will serve as backup to regional mobile crisis teams, and protocols for a specialized response from law enforcement when responding to a behavioral health emergency.  Localities must also outline their plans for achieving community coverage through the four-level urgency framework, with some localities expected to rely on mobile crisis teams developed through the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and deployed on a regional basis, while others may provide additional teams to ensure faster response times.  The first five Community Services Boards were required to implement protocols and ensure community coverage by December 1, 2021, with the following five areas implementing community coverage by July 1, 2023, and additional areas implementing in 2024, 2025, and 2026, with statewide coverage achieved by July 1, 2026.

As amended in a Senate subcommittee, SB 361 would have allowed localities with populations of 80,000 or less to opt out of participation in the Marcus Alert system.  As further amended on the Senate floor and subsequently passed by the Senate, SB 361 now allows this flexibility for localities with populations of 40,000 or less, and extends the deadline for completion of statewide coverage from 2026 to 2028.

In the House, HB 1191 was heard in a subcommittee of the Public Safety subcommittee on Thursday morning, February 10, and amended to provide a one-year implementation delay for all localities, and an additional year of delay for localities with populations of 40,000 or less.  The bill also directs the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to report annually on the implementation of the Marcus Alert system, to include a description of barriers to establishment of Marcus Alert programs and plans to address those barriers.  An additional enactment clause directs the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and the Department of Criminal Justice Services to convene a work group with representatives of localities with populations of 40,000 or less to identify barriers to establishment and implementation of Marcus Alert programs.  HB 1191 now moves to the House floor.

VACo supports additional flexibility for local implementation of this complex initiative and spoke in favor of both bills.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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