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California Healthline

October 25, 2010

Advocates sue governor over mental health program cuts

On Friday, mental health and disability rights advocates filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) violated the federal rights of more than 20,000 special education students when he used line-item vetoes to eliminate a $133 million mental health program, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.

Background

For the past 25 years, county mental health departments administered a program that provided special education students with:

  • Case management;
  • Crisis counseling;
  • Medication management; and
  • Residential placement (Hoag, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/23).

On Oct. 8, Schwarzenegger signed a budget package and used line-item vetoes to cut state spending on the program by shifting responsibility for the mental health services from counties to school districts (Kelly, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 10/24).

The governor's office has said that the line-item veto was both necessary and legal. The administration has not indicated whether the mental health services now will be funded by school districts or other entities.

Lawsuit Details

Some of the groups that filed the lawsuit include:

  • Disabilities Rights California;
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher;
  • Mental Health Advocacy Services; and
  • Public Counsel.

Defendants include:

  • The California Department of Education;
  • The state Department of Health and Human Services;
  • The state Department of Mental Health;
  • County mental health departments; and
  • Local school districts (Gallegos, Los Angeles Daily Journal, 10/25).

The suit claims that the state violated the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by eliminating state funding for the mental health program (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/23).

The advocacy groups say they are not challenging the governor's power to use line-item vetoes. Instead, they are seeking a preliminary injunction or restraining order to maintain the mental health services for special education students (Los Angeles Daily Journal, 10/25).

Matt Connelly, spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said, "The governor's veto is consistent with federal law and past practices in California where school districts have the ultimate responsibility to provide mental health services, not county mental health departments" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 10/23).

Next Steps

H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for California's Department of Finance, said the state Legislature could vote to reverse the line-item veto. He added that if the Legislature does not take action, schools and local governments will need to provide funding for the program (Los Angeles Daily Journal, 10/25).

For additional coverage of the lawsuit against the mental health program cuts, see today's Capitol Desk post.