LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed into law a bill setting out the procedures and rules for judicial districts to follow in creating mental health specialty courts.

The governor signed House Bill 1663 by Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, in a ceremony at the state Capitol. The bill is aimed at creating specialty courts similar to drug courts where people with mental illnesses can be directed to treatment with the ultimate goal of reducing the incarceration of the mentally ill.

Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue, who began working on the drafting of the bill in June and testified in support of it in House and Senate judiciary committees, said the measure should facilitate the creation of the courts.

“The hope is that you would have the consensus of judiciary, executive and legislative branches, because you really didn’t have much of that until the passage of this bill. You had short enabling legislation, but now you have this bill that the governor has signed,” he said.

Shue said the new law “sets procedures … that really needed to be in place, in my opinion, for the mental health court to take hold and prosper. It’s going to have to walk and then it can run, and this, I think, sets the stage for that.”

Among the things the new law establishes are a legislative statement on the goals of the courts, definitions of terms, eligibility requirements, methods for the transfer of cases and procedures to follow when a person fails to appear.

The rules the courts must follow include barring participation by registered sex offenders and people charged with Class Y felonies. The courts also must offer dismissal of charges and sealing of records to encourage participation.

Attending the signing ceremony Wednesday were Boyd; Shue; Sen. Terry Rice R-Waldron, who carried the bill in the Senate; Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck; Sebastian County Quorum Court member Danny Aldridge; and Jim West, CEO of Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center in Fort Smith.