Plan to switch funds for mental health center rejected

A Gvo. Kenny Guinn administration plan to take money budgeted for a variety of child, senior and anti-suicide programs and redirect it to help fund a triage center for the mentally ill in Southern Nevada was rejected by the Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, led the Assembly group objecting to the switch. She said she agrees the triage center is desperately needed to get the mentally ill out of hospital emergency rooms in the south.

She said the problem is that's not what the Legislature voted to spend the money on.

"I have some discomfort putting aside items that have been voted on to bring forward this," she said. "Sixty-three people make a decision during session. Then we come in here and start changing things? That opens us to a constitutional challenge."

Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, agreed saying some of the programs originally funded with that money - including a suicide prevention program in Douglas County - have gone forward and spent money believing they were going to get the money. He said it wouldn't be fair to them to pull the money back and spend it elsewhere.

Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said he agreed with Giunchigliani and would oppose the switch despite agreeing the triage center is needed. He agreed with Giunchigliani that there have been legal questions for years about how far the interim finance committee can go in modifying legislatively approved budgets and this issue might cross that line.

Several senators including Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said they would support the swap proposed by the governor. Coffin said the need for the triage center is so critical it must receive some support.

But a majority of the Assembly members opposed the proposal and it died.

In other business interim finance committee members:

n Accepted $4.78 million in federal money to build the new state emergency operations center. Lawmakers served notice they want a detailed explanation of how the space in the new building will be used before approving more than the minimum $1.6 million in state funding for the project.

n Approved $100,000 from the state's Emergency Assistance Account to help Lincoln County pay costs of the June 2002 fire which nearly destroyed Pioche. They were told the county has no ending fund balance and no way of paying for the fire's costs itself.

n Approved a $1.4 million-a-year contract with The Grow Network to report test scores required under the federal No Child Left Behind to districts, schools, teachers and parents of students being tested. The company will also provide help improving student academic achievement including curriculum improvements.

n Added $140,000 to the court battle over problems with construction of the UNLV Lied Library. State officials are fighting with contractors over what they say are serious deficiencies in the construction of the building. This cash infusion brings the total cost of the litigation so far to $608,000.


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