Senator Portantino’s Mental Health Bills Clear Assembly Education Committee

Thursday, July 8 2021

For Immediate Release: July 8, 2021

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Senator Portantino’s Mental Health Bills Clear Assembly Education Committee

Sacramento, California – Senate Bills 14 and 224, authored by State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), cleared the Assembly Education Committee this week with bipartisan support. SB 224 and 14 address the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by implementing mental health education and strategies.

“We can end the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health and get help to those who need it,” stated Senator Portantino. “As schools transition back to in person learning, teachers are bound to be faced with behavioral health challenges resulting from the emotional impact of the pandemic on their students. Unrecognized, untreated or late treated mental illness elevates the risk of mental health crises such as suicide and self-injury, diminishes prospects for recovery and can contribute to substance abuse and other negative coping behaviors. We want to make sure we are not neglecting these critical issues and giving our kids the help they need.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 1 in 3 California high school students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Nearly 1 in 5 reported that they have seriously considered attempting suicide.

SB 224 requires local educational agencies and charter schools which currently offer one or more courses in health education to middle or high schools students include mental health content in those courses. Educational topics would include but are not limited to the overarching themes and core principles of mental health. Under the amended version, SB 224 would also require that the California Department of Education develop a plan to expand mental health instruction in California public schools on or before January 1, 2024.

SB 14 requires the California Department of Education to recommend best practices and identify evidence-based and evidence-informed training programs to address youth behavioral health, including but not limited to, staff and pupil training. Additionally, the bill ensures that youth absences from school for mental health issues will be treated as an excused absence in the same way any other health issues are treated.

“NAMI-CA is pleased to see this bill move forward, and are infinitely grateful to have such a bold leader in Senator Portantino,” stated Jessica Cruz, CEO of NAMI-CA. “While the amendments we took in today’s hearing mean that mental health instruction will not reach as many children as we intended, NAMI-CA is committed to this fight – as we have been for the last eight years – so that all California students, as well as their families, will soon benefit from this movement.”

Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey, CEO of California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) recounts CBHAs advocacy efforts over the past several years, “CBHA has been a tireless advocate for getting needed training to school personnel and students. Our SB 428 (Pan, 2018) which Senator Portantino co-authored, sailed through the Legislature with over 250 organizations in support only to get stalled at the Governor’s desk. The hope was that funding allocated to schools through the budget would be used to establish trainings. Three years later, and in the midst of a pandemic, Senator Portantino recognized that enough hadn’t been done and action had to be taken now. I remember him reaching out to us to request we revive the coalition of supporters led by CBHA. We are grateful for the Senator's leadership on this issue. We recognize that taking amendments just to guarantee the bill would be heard was not ideal, but Senator Portantino saw beyond himself and pushed sound policy forward. We are heartened by what he did during the hearing by speaking truth to power and challenging his colleagues to do the right thing.”