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Budget Fiasco Stops Mental Health for Kids

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Twenty-three counties have sued California, saying they should be freed from a state mandate to pay for mental-health services in schools, so long as the Legislature and the governor refuse to reimburse them. Los Angeles, San Diego and 21 other counties say Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent veto of $133 million in mental-health funding effectively suspended a 26-year-old law that "mandates that the 58 counties within the state must provide mental health services to children that require such services in order to receive a free and appropriate public education," according to the Superior Court complaint.

"Great confusion has followed upon the unilateral action by the governor and the California Legislature's failure to take any action to override the governor's veto in order to provide the needed funds to the plaintiffs," the complaint states. "These events have resulted in the undisputable truth that the state has not appropriated any funds to this mandate."

The counties say that state law requires that they be reimbursed for the costs of providing schooling to handicapped and disabled students. Until that happens, they say, another state law allows them to ignore the mandate.

"When the Legislature fails to provide sufficient funds to cover the cost of mandated services, local government is entitled to have the mandate declared unenforceable, and is entitled to stop providing the mandated services or programs," the complaint states.

About 20,000 California students receive mental health services under the mandate, according to the California State Association of Counties.

The counties say the "state's failure to satisfy its constitutional obligation to reimburse county for mandated programs and services precludes the counties' ability to continue to provide these state-mandated programs and services ... and thereby jeopardizes the counties' ability to adequately protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents."

The counties seek declaratory judgment that the governor's veto and the Legislature's refusal to override it "constitutes a failure to fund a mandated program, entitling the plaintiffs to relief from such mandate and excusing plaintiffs from providing the services or incurring the costs otherwise required ... until such time as funding for those services is appropriated by the Legislature."

They are represented by Sacramento County Counsel Robert Ryan.

A coalition of mental-health advocates also challenged the governor's Oct. 8 line-item veto, in late October in Federal Court.

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