Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Legislative Priority: Mental Health Funds | State Can't Continue to Ignore This Vital Need

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Legislative Priority: Mental Health Funds | State Can't Continue to Ignore This Vital Need

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

The Florida Legislature convenes its annual, two-month session today -- earlier than usual, and following one of the bicameral body's most chaotic years.

Last year, the session ended ridiculously when the House of Representatives abruptly and unilaterally adjourned before important business was done -- namely the passage of a budget, the Legislature's only real requirement. A special session on the budget ensued, followed by additional sessions to redraw congressional and state Senate districts that ran afoul of constitutional amendments in court.

The major source of last year's regular-session dispute -- whether to expand Medicaid coverage, as 30 states have done -- is unlikely to receive serious consideration this year. That is unfortunate, as the Legislature's failure deprives hundreds of thousands of low-income Floridians of health-care coverage and prevents health-care providers from accessing federal funds to partially cover the costs of treating indigent patients.

Nevertheless, the lack of debate over an ideologically divisive issue creates the potential for the Legislature to begin and complete some important work.

Individuals and interest groups have their own priorities but few issues facing the Legislature have more collective impact than the need to create and fund an effective mental-health system in Florida.

As conversations in our communities and recent reporting by the Herald-Tribune and other media outlets have made clear, the needs are many and many of the challenges are complex. But we hope the Legislature starts its discussion this session with the recognition that Florida woefully underfunds the vast array of mental-health services provided by government and its private-sector partners.

By credible accounts, Florida ranks next-to-the-last in per- capita state spending on public mental-health services, far below the national average. Gov. Rick Scott recently trumpeted his proposal to increase spending by some $19 million -- a welcome yet pitifully small amount for a state with a $1 billion increase in revenues for a $79 billion budget. …

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