My number one job as your state representative is to accurately reflect the wishes and needs of my constituents at the Statehouse. While lawmakers have to make decisions on a variety of issues, over the years and through our service, many of us develop an area of expertise.
If you ask me, I would say that my main area of expertise, which is of particular interest to me, is in the healthcare industry. In fact, this session in particular, a majority of the legislation that I worked on had to do with public health. As a result of this work, I am pleased to share that I was named “2014 Legislator of the Year” by the Indiana Psychological Association (IPA).
Each year, this award is given to a legislator who has been an outstanding mental health leader in the Indiana General Assembly, and on July 25, the award was presented to me at their 2014 annual Southern Indiana Regional Conference. This conference was an educational seminar that addressed a variety of current issues impacting clinical practice for mental health professionals.
The primary reason why I received this award was a result of my work on Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 88. Previously, a psychiatrist had to be used in any criminal cases involving an insanity defense. However, SEA 88 provides that in insanity hearings not involving a homicide, the court shall appoint two or three competent and impartial: psychiatrists or psychologists endorsed by the State Psychology Board. The court could also appoint physicians who have expertise in determining insanity; at least one of whom must be a psychiatrist or psychologist. Essentially, this removes the requirement for a psychiatrist to be one of the three experts.
If you are unfamiliar with the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is able to prescribe medication; whereas, a psychologist is doctorally-trained to conduct research, perform tests and evaluate and treat emotional and psychological challenges. The changes in SEA 88 help address the shortage of qualified psychiatrists in Indiana, and in fact, we are currently ranked 7th lowest in psychiatrists per capita, leaving our courts overworked.
The court system generally prefers a psychiatrist, but due to the shortage, availability has become an issue. By allowing psychologists to operate in this capacity, courts will be able to provide more reasonable hearing dates, making the judicial process more efficient and expeditious. This will also reduce local expenditures by lowering the amount of time a defendant, who utilizes an insanity defense, spends in jail while the court looks to appoint a psychiatrist.
Twenty-six other states have already passed similar laws, and I am pleased that Indiana has joined them by addressing the shortage of qualified psychiatrists, while also ensuring justice is served, through this common sense approach. I was proud to collaborate with both psychologists and psychiatrists and use my role as a state representative to help get this legislation passed.
I recognize the important role psychologists play to provide mental health care to those in need, and I will continue to be their ally in the Indiana House of Representatives. The job that they do is extremely important and improves the quality of life for countless Hoosiers, both within District 75 and beyond.