Ohio lawmakers look to free up state psychiatric beds

Move is being done in part to assure there is room available for those threatening gun violence.

Ohio is taking steps to change how the 1,100 beds in the six state-owned psychiatric hospitals are filled — in part to assure there is room available for those threatening gun violence.

The Ohio Senate voted 30-1 in favor of Senate Bill 58, which is included in Gov. Mike DeWine’s 17-point plan to address gun violence.

Currently, a large portion of the high-security beds are occupied by people facing non-violent misdemeanor criminal charges who need to be restored to mental competency. The DeWine administration wants to give courts the ability to send non-violent defendants to step-down facilities for treatment when appropriate, leaving the secure beds for violent patients.

Related: DeWine wants more state psych beds open for violent people

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, started work on SB58 before the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton but it fits with DeWine’s 17-point plan. Gavarone said a common complaint is that there aren’t enough secure psychiatric beds for those suffering from the most severe mental illnesses.

The bill calls for sending low-level misdemeanor offenders to other treatment programs. State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said he opposes the legislation because it doesn’t outline what those other programs are.

Related: DeWine outlines plan to tackle gun violence

Related: A look at changes to Ohio's gun laws over the years

Major parts of DeWine’s plan — expanding the use of Ohio’s ‘pink slip’ process to force hospitalization of troubled people and creating a voluntary state-run background check for gun purchases — are being carried in a separate bill sponsored by state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls.

Related: 10 years after psych hospital closing: ‘It’s inhumane how they are being treated - it’s not right’

The bill now moves to the Ohio House for consideration.

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