A topic frequently debated on the 2018 Iowa campaign trail is now making its way through the caucus conversation, with Senator Amy Klobuchar holding several events on mental health care reform in Iowa this weekend. It was part of her roll-out for her new mental health and addiction policy proposal, one that comes with a personal connection for the Minnesota senator.
“To me, like so many here today, it’s a personal issue,” Klobuchar said to a group of about 60 Iowans at Drake University on Saturday morning. “For me it started with my dad … he battled with alcoholism his whole life.”
Klobuchar recounted her memories of alcohol bottles in the basement and family arguments in the car, as well as how her father got his first two DUIs while she was in middle school, then got a third just before she got married. Stricter punishments at that time put him into a treatment path. Through the help of AA, he eventually recovered.
“I think everyone should have that right to be pursued by grace,” Klobuchar said.
That informed her efforts in the Senate, where she’s made work on the issue one of her top priorities.
“Everyone talks the talk about this, but I have passed the bills – a number of opioid bills and I have worked on this issue forever,” Klobuchar said. “If you have a president who is making this a priority, we are going to get these things done faster.”
Earlier this week, Klobuchar released a set of policy proposals to address mental health and addiction issues in the country. It’s broken down into prevention, treatment, and recovery.
Her prevention plan includes expanding funding for early detection programs in schools and doctors’ offices, investing in pain relief alternatives to opioids, and a federal drug take-back program. Treatment proposals range from more mental health beds to research investments for substance use disorders to better training for health care professionals. Klobuchar also prioritizes recovery efforts with drug courts/sentencing reform and job and housing assistance for the formerly incarcerated.
“I’m excited about this package and the ability to bring this out as a national presidential candidate and talk about it in a way that I hope will make for change,” she explained. “This is one of those rare areas where we do have some bipartisan work going on. I show how we pay for it.”
To pay for these initiatives, a two-cent per milligram fee would be applied to opioid ingredients that manufacturers create, and a payment settlement agreement would draw funds from the opioid businesses that helped caused the crisis. The goal is to raise $100 billion. Klobuchar noted in her remarks that Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, was already pushing a one-cent fee.
“It is refreshing to know that there is someone nationally that is speaking about these issues that are very dear to me,” remarked Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly. “And has a plan and has dollars to back it up … We have a governor who is touting our children mental health plan, everyone is very excited about it, but doesn’t back it up with any dollars.”
At two different times during the discussion, a panel member or someone in the audience referenced a bill or law that Klobuchar herself then interjected, noting that she’d sponsored or led on it.
Asked by State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad what her plans could to do reduce violence, Klobuchar noted the need for early intervention.
“I look at it two ways,” she said of reducing gun violence and mass shootings. “More beds and more treatment and more early identification in schools, because some of them are coming right out of schools, a number of them being 18, 19 years old … Figuring it out early on and getting them the help they need.”
Klobuchar talked about the work she did on closing the “boyfriend loophole,” where gun restrictions in domestic violence situations also include people who are in a relation, but not married. And the senator added that gun violence and the mental health issues around it aren’t just limited to the mass shootings that make the biggest news.
“This isn’t just mass shootings, it’s street shootings,” Klobuchar said. “That gets so neglected from the whole story. One of the things we know is that kids that grow up in homes that are violent are multiple times more likely to engage in violence themselves because of the battering that does to their head.”
by Pat Rynard