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Dec 17, 2012 11:29 PM by Kate Richards

Colorado looking to expand mental health care

DENVER (AP) - Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking Colorado lawmakers for $18.5 million to expand mental health services, including opening five urgent care mental health centers, as a response to this summer's mass shooting at an Aurora theater.

The governor's office said Monday that the services Hickenlooper and state health officials are proposing are aimed at redesigning and strengthening Colorado's system for taking care of the mentally ill, an issue that has received more attention in the wake of the July's shootings.

Former neuroscience graduate student James Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July movie theater shootings. His attorneys say he suffers from mental illness.

The plan from Hickenlooper and state health officials includes opening five 24-hour walk-in centers for mental health care in Colorado and establishing a statewide mental health crisis hotline. Those two initiatives alone are estimated to cost $10.2 million.

State officials planned to discuss the initiatives Tuesday morning, where the Democratic governor will be joined by state Human Services Executive Director Reggie Bicha and members of Colorado's mental health and public safety communities.

Hickenlooper is also proposing building two 15-bed residential facilities for short-term transition from mental health hospitals to the community, and housing vouchers for people with serious mental illness. That portion of the plan would cost nearly $4.8 million, the governor's office said.

Another part of the plan calls for the state's Judicial System and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to better coordinate with electronic mental health records during background checks for gun buyers. Lawmakers have to pass a bill to make it happen, and there was no cost estimate for how much it would cost to revamp coordination.

Hickenlooper said in an interview with The Associated Press last week, before the shootings in Connecticut, that "the time is right" to discuss gun control, although he did not call for specific legislation.

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