Sen. Wint Winter Jr. led opposition Tuesday afternoon to a bill he strongly supports.
That twist came about during discussions of the mental health reform bill before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Winter, R-Lawrence, said he was torn because he supports the reform, but worried about the state's ability to fund it because of the bleak financial situation facing the state this year. The state already faces a projected $77 million shortfall in social service programs funded by the state this year and next.
Winter told his fellow committee members that the mental health reform bill should become law, and said he has recommended similar changes in the mental health system for years.
But he said that after the lawmakers spent Tuesday morning hearing from state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Winston Barton about the agency's dire fiscal straits, they should not turn around in the afternoon and endorse a bill that adds about $2 million in spending.
"LET'S NOT lose sight of the fact that just this morning, we were told of a $77 million shortfall in the regular SRS budget," he said. "Until we know what the Legislature is doing to fund caseloads and federal mandates, we're looking at cuts.
"We'd better come up with the bucks. If we do this one, we better come up with the bucks to do the others."
Although other senators on the committee expressed similar worries, they voted 10-3 to send the mental health reform bill to the full Senate. Two senators who voted for the bill, Paul Feleciano Jr., D-Wichita, and Joe Harder, R-Moundridge, both said they reserved the right to change their votes on the Senate floor.
The mental health reform act is designed to decrease the number of patients in state psychiatric hospitals and provide treatment for patients where they reside.
UNDER THE bill, only a community mental health center would be able to admit a person to a state hospital.
Gov. Mike Hayden included $1.02 million in his proposed budget for the program, which also was recommended by the Governor's Committee on Mental Health and supported by community mental health centers.
However, SRS officials told the Ways and Means Committee that another $400,000 is needed for stabilization costs for persons treated by community health centers who need hospitalization, and another $500,000 is needed for startup costs, including community housing for patients.
The program would be phased in over a five- or six-year period.
IN MAKING A motion to support the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mike Johnston, D-Parsons, said that every year there will be a whole series of competing interests.
"There always seems to be a reason why we can't have mental health reform every year," he said. "Until we get it on the table, nothing will be done."
Winter said after the meeting that the mental health reform bill "is a program that should be passed. It is cost effective in the long run.
"But we'd better realize that if we do it, we have to pay for it."