TALLAHASSEE — In his first legislative session, state Rep. Patt Maney took on something no other lawmaker has had much luck tackling: a thorough overhaul of statutes governing the Baker and Marchman acts.

The Baker Act, passed in 1971, governs involuntary commitments based on mental health. The Marchman Act, passed in 1993, allows similar action to be taken in cases involving alcohol addiction or substance abuse. 

“These laws have been subject to numerous revisions since their enactments, but their fundamental structure has remained unchanged despite numerous case law and scientific developments,” Maney’s introduction to House Bill 405 states. “This proposal represents the first comprehensive reform of Florida’s civil commitment system to reflect these developments.”

Ambulances sit at the emergency room entrance at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. The hospital is the only facility in Okaloosa County that houses adults committed under the Baker Act.

Maney, R-Shalimar, might be uniquely qualified for the task he has set out to accomplish. He served for 20 years as a county judge in Okaloosa County, where he saw firsthand the impacts of mental illness and substance abuse not only on individuals and families, but also on the legal system.

His work with the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse also brought him into close contact with Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, arguably the state’s leading advocate for mental health care reform and since 2007 the Supreme Court’s special adviser on criminal justice and mental health.

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But the road to passage for legislation as expansive as that introduced by Maney can be a long one and, on April 1 — about halfway through this year’s session — he was seeing little movement of his House bill and only slightly more activity with a Senate companion bill sponsored by Republican George Gainer of Panama City and Democrat Lauren Book.