Martin Wants Change in Law to Help Out Mental Health Advisory Group

The director of the state’s addictions and mental health division, Pam Martin, would like to be able to compensate people on her division’s consumer advisory council for the costs of being on the council, like travel and motel stays. If they had these costs paid, the state might be able to attract more members as well as a more diverse group.

People who wish to participate in a state advisory council focused on behavioral health may soon not have to pick up the tab for travel to all those meetings in Salem under legislation proposed by Pam Martin, the director of the Oregon Health Authority’s Addictions and Mental Health Division.

The consumer advisory council for mental health services is composed of 15 to 25 members of the public who are either consumers of such services or the parents of youth who receive services.

People who have a mental illness or an addiction routinely earn less than the general population as a result of their condition, yet state law forbids compensating them with bus tickets, gas money, meals or motel stays they might need to attend bimonthly meetings.

Senate Bill 229 would reverse the law, and compensate council members for direct costs they accrue for their work volunteering on the council, at Martin’s discretion.

“If this is not approved, we’re going to have trouble attracting people for the council,” Martin told the Senate Human Services Committee on Thursday. She said members in Medford and Eastern Oregon can currently opt to participate in meetings via telephone, but their presence would be welcome in meetings, which are typically held in Salem or Portland.

She said the money to compensate these folks could be freed up from a federal block grant if the law was changed. No state dollars would be spent. 

“This is something we’ve done for other committees, so it has precedent,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. “This is totally acceptable in my opinion. … These are not overly wealthy people to start with and getting here from Ontario [Oregon] will be a journey.”

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the chairwoman of the committee, asked Martin to provide the committee with demographic and geographic distribution data to inform any debate on SB 229, but Gelser said she plans to call a committee vote on this bill on Tuesday.

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