PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — People in emergency situations who might be in need of mental health care could communicate electronically with counselors in other places, under a proposal that received unanimous support from a chamber of the South Dakota Legislature this week.

The state House of Representatives voted 67-0 Wednesday for HB 1005. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden assigned it to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Thursday.

Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican, chairs the committee. She plans to hold hearings on it and SB 1 in the coming days.

Representative Herman Otten, a Lennox Republican, led the House in passing HB 1005. He said it is “the first piece” of “a giant puzzle” of mental-health reforms that South Dakota lawmakers are considering this year.

Five panels of lawmakers and various outside experts started working on separate but related mental-health issues shortly after the 2019 session ended. “This is the first step in trying to move this all along,” Otten said.

Other bills from the interim committees are HB 1009, HB 1010, HB 1011, SB 2, SB 4 and SB 5.

Representative Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said HB 1005 was critical.

“It is a beginning road map,” Duba told House members. “It gives a partner to that peace officer and it makes our decisions more effective, more cost-effective and good for the family.”

Representative Erin Healy, a Sioux Falls Democrat, agreed. “Access to mental health care is so incredibly important to our state right now,” Healy said. “It’s crucial for our state.”

Representative Michael Diedrich, a Rapid City Republican, said the legislation would help relieve pressure on the mental-health system, from the state Human Services Center in Yankton to community mental-health centers.

Diedrich said another proposed change in 1005 — so that medical professionals wouldn’t be required in emergency situations to have a prior relationship with a patient to write prescriptions — would be useful if they were communicating through a law enforcement officer’s laptop or iPad.

“Some of those patients will not have that prior relationship,” Diedrich said.

Otten said some of the lawmakers from the interim committees met last week with South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who’s led the state’s judicial system into areas such as mental-health courts.

“He does approve of this and it fits right in line with what he’s trying to do,” Otten said.

Representative Tamara St. John, a Sisseton Republican, said the legislation could benefit Native American schools that are in remote rural areas. “It is a really unique opportunity and a way to reach some really vulnerable students,” she said.

Representative Tim Rounds, a Pierre Republican, had suggested Tuesday the House should hold the bill. On Wednesday he called for sending it to the Senate.

“Hats off,” Rounds said. “I was impressed.”