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March 9, 2007

MHANYS Legislative Breakfast on
Wednesday, March 14th at 9:30am in
‘The Well’ of Legislative Office Building

MHANYS Highlights Budget Initiatives in Anticipation of State Budget on April 1
We continue to get enthusiastic responses from legislators regarding our Legislative Conference. Among the legislators who we have confirmed as speakers are Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Senator Thomas Libous, Assembly members Paul Tonko, Donna Lupardo and Jeff Dinowitz. Also, we are pleased that the new Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan will be speaking as well. Because the 14th is his confirmation date as Commissioner, the time he speaks is subject to change but it appears to be around 10:45.

MHANYS Priorities in the Budget

The timing for this meeting is very fortunate because legislators are beginning to put their final priorities in place in anticipation of the April 1st Budget deadline. Both in our legislative meetings and in our testimony, we have called for several initiatives to be added to the budget including:

• $10 million in additional funding for local assistance programs to help pay for peer run programs, children’s mental health services, integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, services for youth in transition, individuals leaving correctional settings, clubhouses and many other valuable community services

• Make the COLA permanent as well as increase the base

• Insure that anti-depressants continue to stay part of the carve out of mental health medications in the Preferred Drug List

• Language that will allow 500 of the proposed 2,000 new beds in the mental health budget to be specifically designated for adult home residents

• $3 million in funding for Geriatric Mental Health

• $1.5 million to continue funding for suicide prevention efforts

• $1 million to fund training, education and advocacy for issues of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities

At our legislative day, talking points will be included for each of these issues. I cannot emphasize how important it is for us to speak out on these issues. In a year where policymakers were able to find over $70 million dollars to pay for sex offenders in psychiatric facilities, they should certainly be able to come up with $10 million to pay to help fund community run programs which serve well over 500,000 New Yorkers with mental illness.


MHANYS Legislative Priorities

• Support the bill that calls for the elimination of special housing units for people with mental illness in prison commonly referred to as the ‘boot the SHU bill.’(A.4870)

• Support the Housing Wait List bill that will create a permanent administrative tool that will identify the housing needs of all people with psychiatric disabilities who do not currently have housing. (A. 3864).

• Support the Bill that will increase the provisions of Timothy’s Law to include state supported insurance programs (Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus). The bill is sponsored by Assembly members Tonko and Gotfried. [It does not have an official bill number.]

• Support a bill that will establish two centers of excellence in culturally and linguistically competent mental health (A. 1612)

Please contact your legislators to set up meetings. If you have any questions or problems regarding meeting with your legislator, please feel free to contact me at gliebman@mhanys.org.

Hope to see you on Wednesday.

Letter Sent to the Leadership of the Senate and Assembly Mental Hygiene Committees

March 8, 2007

As we get closer to the budget deadline, we wanted to reiterate our positions on several initiatives. You have been a strong and passionate advocate for the mental health community and we urge your support for these items.

We are seeking a $10 million increase in funding for local assistance programs to help to overcome the cuts in recent years to community run mental health programs. This funding would be used to help pay for peer run programs, children’s mental health services, integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, services for individuals with mental illness leaving correctional settings, respite services, clubhouse programs and many other valuable community services. In recent years there have been funding decreases (outside of last year’s COLA), despite program costs increasing dramatically for health insurance, liability insurance, heating costs, gas prices, etc. This $10 million will help deflect the increasing costs of running recovery driven, community based programs.

In a year in which over $70 million can be allocated to house sexual offenders in psychiatric facilities, policy makers should certainly be able to identify $10 million to help fund community run mental health programs which serve well over 500,000 New Yorkers with mental illness.

We also ask for your help in seeking to make the COLA permanent. The one consistent message from every community run mental health organization in New York State is the inability to keep qualified staff. Though we know that the COLA should be greater than 2.5%, we also know that we have to begin to move forward by creating a permanent COLA. We urge you to help work with us to make the COLA permanent and work with us to increase the base in the future.

We are also advocating strongly to insure that anti-depressants continue to stay part of the carve out of mental health medications in the Preferred Drug List (PDL). We are very concerned that if the anti-depressants do not continue to be part of the carve out than Medicaid patients will not have access to the medications that best meet their clinical needs. The implications of not providing the best medications will be costly to taxpayers as well. Without appropriate medications, individuals will likely end up in hospitals, jails, prisons and emergency rooms.

Also, we urge you to support language that will allow for 500 of the proposed 2,000 new beds in the mental health budget to be specifically designated for adult home resident seeking to transition to other housing options. According to the New York State Office of Mental Health review of the adult home data, over 500 people have been identified who can live at a different level of housing than adult homes. Very few adult home residents have left their existing housing. This language change will create an ability for adult home residents to have other residential options in the community.

We also urge you to add $3 million in funding for geriatric mental heath to meet the needs of this significant and often overlooked population as well as $1.5 million to continue the funding essential for suicide prevention efforts in New York State.

Finally, we urge you to consider the addition of $1 million in funding for the issues of Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities. Over 60% of individuals in the adult public mental health system have children. Unfortunately, many individuals lose custody of their children based solely on their mental health diagnosis. Funding is needed to help pay for trainings, education and advocacy for this population.

We look forward to working with both of you and the entire legislature to achieve those goals. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Take Action

Urge your representative to co-sponsor the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007

Thank you to Mental Health America’s Advocacy Network members who asked their senators two weeks ago to support and co-sponsor mental health parity legislation in the Senate. That was only a first step though and we still have work to do!

Yesterday Congressmen Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) introduced a strong new version of the Wellstone bill for mental health fairness. The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act would bar employers and health plans from imposing stricter limits on insurance coverage for mental health care than care for other medical conditions.

The legislation is cosponsored by an historic bipartisan majority of 256 Members of Congress, including House Leaders. That’s a great start, but Mental Health America needs your help to add more! Urge your representative to support and co-sponsor H.R. 1367 today.

Enactment of a strong parity bill is a critical first step toward improving access to health care and addressing mental health conditions with the same urgency and priority as we attach to other general medical conditions. For more information about parity legislation in Congress and other ways you can help, visit the Campaign to Insure Mental Health and Addiction Equity website, http://www.equitycampaign.org/.

 

IN THE NEWS:

Confinement Questions
Albany Times Union, Editorial, March 6, 2007

It now appears certain that New York will soon have a civil confinement law for sex offenders. All of the circumstances point to quick approval: Gov. Spitzer wants to make good on his pledge to end Albany's dysfunction and show that he can get results; the legislative leaders want to show they are tough on crime, and are willing to work with Mr. Spitzer despite their recent differences over the appointment of a new state comptroller, and polls show strong public approval for confinement legislation.

No one doubts that sexual crimes are often gruesome, and made even more so because the victims are so often helpless children. And no one can deny the statistical evidence that show sex offenders have high rates of recidivism. Yet these are no reasons to rush through legislation that raises so many questions about due process. If anything, the Legislature should be taking a long look at the implications of adopting such legislation.

Under the proposed law, medical professionals would evaluate those who are about to finish serving their sentences for serious sexual crimes to determine if they pose a risk of future assaults. If the answer is yes, then the offenders would be entitled to jury trials to determine whether they should be involuntarily confined to a secure facility, where they would receive treatment, after they have served their prison time.

But how would a jury of ordinary people possibly be qualified to pass on the judgment of medical professionals? Granted, juries deal with medical testimony all the time, and often it is conflicting. But it is always within the context of a crime that has been committed, and with other evidence to consider. The testimony of doctors and other professionals is one factor among many weighed by the jury.

But that would not be the case in a civil confinement trial. There would be no crime to look back on, only the likelihood that the defendant might commit a crime in the future. There would be no hard evidence to consider, no alibis, no witnesses to the scene of the crime. Jurors would, in effect, have one duty: To pass judgment on a professional's opinion about an offender's likelihood of posing a risk if released back into society.

A New York Times article, reprinted in this newspaper Sunday, showed how expensive confinement laws can be, and often how ineffective the treatment programs are. The Legislature should consider a better solution, such as longer sentences for even first-time sexual offenses, with treatment mandated during incarceration. That, along with strict monitoring of offenders who are released into society, and laws requiring the public to be alerted when a sex offender is living in their neighborhood, should help to protect society. It's not foolproof, of course, but it is preferable to punishing people for crimes they might commit.

Assembly Approves Bill to Confine Sexual Predators
The Journal News, March 7, 2007
By Cara Matthews, Gannett News Service

ALBANY - As the Assembly gave final passage yesterday to legislation that would keep certain sexual predators locked up even after their prison sentences ended, officials acknowledged that the practice could cost the state an estimated $225,000 per offender per year, compared with $32,000 annually for inmates in correctional facilities.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders announced last week that they had an agreement on so-called "civil commitment," bringing years of wrangling and impasse between Democrats, Republicans and former Gov. George Pataki to an end.

New York will join 19 other states that have civil confinement when the governor, as promised, approves it. It takes effect 30 days after it is signed.

The measure would create a new sector in the state's criminal-justice system and charge an Office of Sex Offender Management with developing policies and standards to evaluate, treat and manage that population.

On the front end, it would allow longer prison sentences. For example, it would eliminate the option of parole for felony sex offenses and create a crime of "sexually motivated felony," in which certain other crimes, such as robbery, are committed for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator.

For the most dangerous sexual predators - those deemed likely to re-offend if released - it would allow indefinite confinement in facilities run by the state Office of Mental Health.
Those deemed to pose a lower recidivism risk at the end of their prison terms would be released and subject to intense community supervision.

Some lawmakers balked because the cost of holding a person in civil confinement in the state would be seven times more than prison. It is more costly because of the treatment programs, medical personnel and extra security required.

The financial details were outlined for lawmakers at a meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee shortly before the measure was voted on.

"I believe that this will be presented to the public as a way of making people safer and I wish that that were the outcome. I'm not so certain that that will be," Assemblywoman Susan Glick, D-Manhattan, said.

"In some instances, that will be true, but the experience in other places includes the fact that the cost of programs is virtually unchecked and growing," she said, adding that there's no requirement that civilly confined individuals participate in treatment.
Glick said the law would not address educating people to prevent sex offenses in the first place.

Others said that this was legislation whose time had come, particularly in light of cases of rape and murder by sex offenders and clear direction from constituents that it is a priority.
The legislation is needed to protect families and communities, said Assemblyman Marc Molinaro, R-Tivoli, Dutchess County.

"Our state can't wait any longer," he said.

Assemblyman David Koon, R-Perinton, Monroe County, whose 18-year-old daughter was raped and murdered in 1993, said he wouldn't be able to put a dollar figure on what the loss has cost his family.

"The point is if we can civilly confine these sex offenders to the point where they are not committing other crimes out on the street, we are going to save money in the state by not having more crimes," he said.

The Assembly approved the measure 127-19. The Senate passed the bill Monday by a vote of 53-8.

There are 133 people currently in civil confinement and will be about 220 by the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year, which begins April 1, said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn.

The total would grow by about 100 a year.

The facilities where they would be held are Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy, Oneida County; Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center in New York City; Manhattan Psychiatric Center; Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton, Orange County; and St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg. They would be kept separate from mental-health patients.

Mental-health advocates oppose the legislation because they do not think the state should use its psychiatric centers to house potentially dangerous sex offenders. The state should ensure that no funds in the mental-health system should be directed away from patients and toward treatment of sex offenders, they have said.

The bill calls for the state Attorney General to decide when to seek civil commitment of individuals who have completed a sentence for a sex offense and are determined by a state panel of mental health professionals to suffer from a mental abnormality. A jury trial would be held.

The governor's budget includes $66 million for civil confinement in 2007-08, and the cost is estimated at $81 million, meaning another $15 million would have to be added, said Blake Washington, a budget analyst for the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Spitzer's budget also includes about $8 million for the Department of Correctional Services to provide additional treatment for sex offenders, $4 million more for the Attorney General's Office and $6 million more for the Division of Parole for enhanced supervision, Washington said.

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ph. 518-434-0439 fax 518-427-8676 info@mhanys.org