Sen. Alexander takes on mental health 'crisis'

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right, as he speaks to reporters after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end debate on the makeover of the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, setting up a final vote Wednesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. The sweeping legislation would give the states greater control over the nation's public schools but still maintain annual testing to gauge student progress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON - The top Republican and top Democrat on a key Senate committee have teamed up on a proposal to improve and expand access to mental health services, a bipartisan approach that could become law this year.

The proposal would better coordinate the federal bureaucracy for mental health programs, make it easier for states to use federal funds for certain services, and increase treatment options for children, the homeless and people at risk of suicide, according to a 114-page draft released March 7.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, worked with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to build on previous legislative efforts. Their proposal is a broad attempt to address weaknesses in how medical and social service systems handle mental illness and substance abuse.