Advocacy Alert: Crunch Time for CESSA!


May 17, 2021 | by Amber Smock

Advocacy Alert: Crunch Time for CESSA

Senate Committee to Vote on CESSA on May 18th

Access Living friends and allies:

On 5/18, the CESSA bill will be heard by Illinois Senators in the Behavioral and Mental Health Committee. The Senators are expected to vote on whether to allow CESSA to be voted on by the full State Senate. We are very grateful to all the allies who have helped CESSA pass the House and make it to this point with the Senate so far.

We need your help to push CESSA across this next goal line.

In This Post:

Take Action

File a Witness Slip for CESSA:

Witness slips tell your State Senators and Representatives who supports and who opposes a bill. You can sign a digital witness slip to show your support for CESSA. You can file an electronic witness slip for CESSA here.

How to fill out your witness slip:

  • Enter your information in the boxes on the witness slip
  • For Firm/Business or Agency you can list ‘self’, or the name of a group you represent (e.g. Chicago VOTES)
  • For Title, you can list ‘none’ or a title that represents you, such as disability advocate, family member, supporter, etc.
  • In Section III, mark that you are a “proponent” (supporter) of CESSA
  • In Section IV, choose ‘record of appearance only’ since you are filing your slip online

WITNESS SLIP DEADLINE: Tuesday May 18th 5pm Central.

Send an Email to Your Illinois State Senator:

Every State Senator needs to hear from disability advocates about why you think CESSA is important. If you live in Illinois, you can send a letter to your State Senator to support CESSA using this link.

Promote CESSA on Social Media:

Are you a fan of social media? Do you love Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Than you can help us advocate for CESSA on your favorite media. Here is a link to the CESSA social media toolkit. Encourage your friends to help amplify this work!


The goal of CESSA is to ensure that 911 emergency dispatch can actually dispatch appropriate non-police support for people with disabilities who are in mental or behavioral health crises. Far too often, when 911 dispatches police to these kinds of emergency calls, police “command and control” culture practices may result in physical harm, incarceration, or death for the person with a disability. We all deserve better.

CESSA was developed over the last several years by Access Living’s racial justice organizing group, Advance Your Leadership Power (AYLP), in partnership with the family of Stephon Watts, a young man with a disability who was killed by police in his own home. CESSA recognizes what should be common sense: it’s not a crime to need mental health supports.

Did you know:

  • 10% of 911 calls request help with a mental or behavioral health emergency.
  • Since Illinois lacks a coordinated health care response service, 911 can generally only dispatch law enforcement.
  • Law enforcement practices focusing on “command and control” of a location actually makes many of these emergencies worse.
  • Law enforcement skills are rarely needed for these calls, as people with mental illness are less likely to be violent than people without such a diagnosis.
  • Law enforcement is generally compelled to hospitalize or jail people needing this service, but 90% of people who need help do not need such an invasive and costly response.

CESSA would:

  • Support creation of a 911 response option separate from law enforcement, for mental and behavioral health emergencies everywhere an ambulance service exists.
  • Require responders to use appropriate de-escalation techniques and then connect callers to their existing care providers or to available community services and supports.
  • Save State and local dollars by supporting people in the community rather than in emergency rooms and jails.
  • Support each EMS Region to design regionally appropriate systems.

An important note: This bill is not a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) bill. The CESSA bill is complementary to, but separate from, CIT training for when police are required to confront violent or unlawful activity.

Feel free to share this alert with fellow community members. Thank you for your advocacy.