Friday, March 14, 2014
Scott, Legislature should bolster social services

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $2 million for a Lakeland crisis stabilization unit and triage center for the mentally ill. Scott prides himself on removing fat from the state budget, but services for the mentally ill are not fat.

The legislative session kicked off last Tuesday and will last 60 days. In that time, the state has some extra money to kick around. Surplus estimates range as high as $1.2 billion. Plans for the money are diverse.

Much of the discussion so far has been of tax cuts and new education funding. And so it should be.

But mental health treatment and drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation have been kept at tight funding levels through the recession and recovery years, even as surpluses began to appear.

Funding could have been worse, mental health officials concede, but progress often was not made as state lawmakers maintained the status quo on money, declining to break new ground for centers that offer drug rehabilitation, crisis stabilization and mental health care.

Scott prides himself on removing fat from the annual state budget, and in fact, deserves a reputation for being a pork-cutter.

But a crisis-stabilization unit and triage center for the mentally ill and emotionally distressed are not pork. Those are services needed in every Florida region, and they will need to be beefed up as the state's population grows into the next decade.

Around the time Scott came into office, in early 2011, Florida was known as the prescription-pill capital of the United States. The majority of powerful painkillers in the nation were being prescribed in Florida. Addiction was growing.

Now that Florida has cracked down on prescription-pill abuse, addicts have turned to other narcotics, and to alcohol. Methamphetamine addiction still plagues the Sunshine State.

Florida also is racked by a shortage of beds for victims of domestic violence. More than 2,000 people were turned away from domestic violence shelters across the state. That is why making reasonable increases to mental health funding in the state budget, every year, makes sense. Such spending is an investment, not a money loser.

For every Floridian treated for depression, addiction, domestic abuse and other such problems, the likelihood of criminal behavior, unemployment, financial distress, divorce, broken families or suicide decreases. It's an investment that Gov. Scott and the Legislature must keep in mind this year as they look at a budget that has extra money.

-- Sarasota Herald Tribune

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