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California Healthline

October 25, 2010

Mental health advocates sue over governor's cuts

Before the governor signed the state budget, he cut about $1 billion from it. One of those line-item vetoes trims $133 million from mental health services spending for children.

According to advocates who filed a lawsuit Friday to stop it, those cuts are illegal.

"Only the state Legislature has the authority to reverse the mandate to provide these services," Jim Preis of Mental Health Advocacy Services said.

"This threw the state into chaos," he said, "as it relates to providing mental health services to children who need it."

The lawsuit seeks some kind of stay, either a preliminary injunction or a restraining order, Preis said, to stop the termination of school mental health programs.

"It's amazing how quickly we started to get calls" after the cuts were made by the governor, Preis said. "Our phones started ringing off the hook."

Schools have stopped enrolling any new students in their mental health programs, Preis said, and added that it won't be long before they terminate existing programs.

"In this very difficult budget time, there just isn't a lot of ability to sustain a program without funding in place," he said.

At one point in the budget negotiations in Sacramento, there was talk about shifting responsibility for the program from county health to education. "But they left the $133 million in the budget," Preis said, "because you couldn’t do that transition overnight."

And overnight is the time frame now, Preis said, adding that the governor does not have the authority to reverse legislation.

"When the governor ignored that philosophy, the only thing he achieved was a lot of chaos and uncertainty," Preis said.