With a state budget flush with cash some lawmakers are fighting to get their hands on $1.8 million with one state senator calling it part of an “important moral issue.”
Tuesday, March 8th 2022, 10:09 PM CST
With a state budget flush with cash—an expected $775 million over the next two years, and that doesn’t include the state’s $1 trillion in federal COVID cash—some lawmakers are fighting to get their hands on $1.8 million with one state senator calling it part of an “important moral issue.”
At the same time, the Ricketts Administration is pushing back.
The issue: A bill forcing the state to reimburse counties that are jailing mentally ill individuals because Nebraska’s Lincoln Regional Center doesn’t have the room.
According to the Legislature’s numbers-crunchers, the average wait time for patients-and-or-defendants to be admitted to the LRC for “competency restoration” is just over four months.
[View lawmakers’ comments above]
During an impassioned floor speech State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, a Democrat, told his fellow lawmakers, “Our county jails and our Department of Corrections has become a de facto substitute for capacity in the Regional Center and it’s immoral…. We do not have the capacity at the Regional Center and I don’t see any interest in expanding it, none.”
Lathrop recalling the 2013 case of Nikko Jenkins, who went on a 10-day Omaha killing spree, murdering four people. “A month before (Jenkins) could see freedom he said, ‘Send me to the Regional Center I’m not well.’ Nope, don’t have the capacity. We’re not going to do it. We’re just going to release you into society and let you go. What he did was predictable.”
And Lathrop wasn’t alone, picking up rural support from Curt Friesen of Henderson.
“We had a case like this in Hamilton County where there was a lady that was arrested. She was a frequent flyer,” said the Republican lawmaker. “It was a mental health issue, and the sheriff knew her, knew that it was a mental health issue but had nowhere to go but to put her in the county jail. During her time in that county jail, she attacked the sheriff and subsequently ended up in the Women’s Reformatory in York.
During a hearing on the bill (LB1223) last week a top administrator with the Department of Health and Human Services, Larry Kahl, testified against the measure. “DHHS opposes arbitrarily establishing a minimum number of beds for different categories of admissions because this could be physically impossible, create gaps in services, leave beds empty, or short needed beds at the facility,” said Kahl.
The Chief Operating Officer adding, “DHHS is working to reduce length of stay and length of time on the admission lists. In addition to this we are actively working with our Regional partners to address critical care gaps in service. The Department believes that the bed allocation plan as stated would cause delays in treatment.”
Kahl was the lone opponent of the bill.
Among those supporting it the Nebraska County Attorneys Association, Douglas and Lancaster County Commissioners, ACLU Nebraska, Bryan Medical Center, and the State Bar Association.
The bill is currently in the Judiciary Committee. It’s not clear if lawmakers will vote on it this year.