The death of a southeast Iowa lawman has sparked more public discussion of an effort in the legislature to redesign the state’s mental health care system.

The family of the man who shot the Keokuk County deputy to death this week says their relative had suffered from mental illness. That incident was discussed last night during debate in the Iowa House. According to Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, the current system means long waiting lists, especially for rural Iowans. 

“When someone is in a mental health crisis, you can’t wait two or three weeks to get into services, even more usually,” Gaskill said,  “maybe three months.”

A group of legislators have been working since January, considering ways to change the system. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says legislators plan to dedicate more money for mental health services — after the system is reconfigured. 

“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that first of all every Iowan has access to the same quality and type of service,” Paulsen says. “Right now, there’s kind of this patchwork quilt of in this county you can get this, and in this county it’s something different…and there ought to be some sort of uniformity.” 

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says “everybody agrees it will take more resources” to provide the care mentally ill Iowans.  And while there was a proposal last year to close one of the state’s Mental Health Institutes, Gronstal says that’s not part of this year’s discussion.

“The Mental Health Institutes are places to commit people residentially. We continue to believe more effective, usually, mental health treatment is at the local level,” Gronstal says. “And so I don’t think we have any plans to close any of those, but I don’t think we have any plans to end up with more people in those Mental Health Institutes.”

The funeral for Keokuk County Deputy Eric Stein will be held tomorrow.  The family of Jeffrey Krier, the Sigourney man who shot Stein this week, say Krier had suffered from bipolar disorder.  Krier was shot to death during a stand-off with authorities.