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Reps. Clampitt, Pless make big ask for mental health

Filed in the General Assembly on March 15, House Bill 280  contains only 112 words, but if it gains legislative approval its impact in Western North Carolina would be huge. 

“We need a mental health treatment center because of the issues we have in Western North Carolina – Haywood County west – not having any real facility for people to get assistance with mental health,” said Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City. “Whether that’s mental health having to do with substance abuse, PTSD, short-term, long-term, department of corrections, individuals that are involuntary commitments, we don’t have anywhere in true Western North Carolina to be able to get individuals the real mental health treatment they need.”

The bill, sponsored by Clampitt and fellow Western North Carolina Rep. Mark Pless, R-Haywood, seeks an appropriation from the state’s general fund that would bring $50 million for a badly-needed mental health treatment center. The bill stipulates that the facility be located in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon or Swain counties. 

“The closest facility we have right now is Broughton down in Morganton [more than 80 miles from Waynesville] and that’s just not acceptable,” Pless said. “We spend a lot of time with law enforcement, especially going back and forth on commitments and people that they are taking down to have in there. They spend more time in transport, and if they turn around and they say, ‘No, we’re not going to keep them,’ then we have to go back and get them.”

Bringing such a facility to the far western counties is something both Clampitt and Pless campaigned on back in 2020. 

“A lot of people don’t think that I’m for that,” Pless explained. “I am, but you know, it comes with stipulations. It comes with restrictions and it comes with expecting people to behave a certain way in order to help themselves. But we definitely have got to have something like that.”

Co-sponsors on the bill include Concord Republican Rep. Larry Pittman and Rocky Mount Democratic Rep. Shelly Willingham. As of press time, the bill had been referred to the committee on appropriations. Clampitt, Pless, Pittman and Willingham all serve on this committee. 

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