Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida's Baker and Marchman acts are set for the biggest overhaul in years

Rep. Patt Maney
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Patt Maney, R-Okaloosa, helped move the legislation forward but says there is more to do.

The state’s process for involuntary psychiatric evaluations is getting a major overhaul under legislation that’s cleared the Legislature this year, with advocates saying its long overdue.

Floridians and their families affected by mental health and substance abuse illnesses may soon get relief from a system that many have long described as broken.

The state’s process for involuntary psychiatric evaluations is getting a major overhaul under a measure(HB 7021) that’s cleared the Legislature this session, with advocates saying its long overdue.

The Marchman and Baker acts set out the process for involuntary commitment of people dealing with mental health problems or substance abuse. But the processes have long been confusing, and even worse for some children — traumatic. Lawmakers for years have tried to fix the systems through incremental changes

"I can say from the beginning of my time in services, I have known that the Baker and Marchman acts are very complicated, they don’t work for everybody, but it has seemed like a task too large to take on and overhaul a system," said Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce.

But this year, says Natalie Kelly of the Florida Association of Managing Entities, something big happened. This year, lawmakers finally did their first major overhaul of the Baker and Marchman acts in decades.

“In the world of behavior health in the state of Florida, yes," she said, "this is a major issue."

The proposals streamline the processes for evaluations and intakes, and, most critically for children — require parents to be notified if their child is being sent for an involuntary examination. The bills also put $50 million toward ensuring that people released from care actually get the services they need.

Kelly is giving the credit for the bill's passage to Rep. Patt Maney, R-Okaloosa, for helping move the issue forward in a major way.

Maney is a retired judge and Army brigadier general.

Under the bill, the criteria for involuntary commission has been expanded to include whether a person has a prior history of substance abuse or mental health issues — a criteria that could help curb unwarranted Baker Acts, especially for kids. But there’s still more work coming, says Maney.

“This is not a perfect bill," Maney says. "We’ll be back looking at some fine-tuning next session, God willing. But this is a good bill, and I ask the House to support it."

One issue left undone is the question of law enforcement’s role in the involuntary commission process. Right now, police are often the ones who are making the first determination of whether a person should be sent for evaluation, and many officers have openly fretted about whether that’s appropriate given they have no background in psychology or mental health.

Still, this year’s efforts are gaining praise, even as more loom.

Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.