Legislation dramatically revamping the state’s mental health services program for children was signed into law on Friday by Gov. Phil Batt despite his belief the concerns of some critics may be justified.
Despite that controversy, Batt said, “we were probably wise to go ahead.”
Since the provisions of the bill will not take effect until mid-1998, Batt and others said the additional 15 months will offer time to find any serious problems and eliminate them during next winter’s legislative session. The fact that the revision is the law should focus more attention on any problems, they suggested.
The revision, the result of more than three years of work by the state and various advocacy groups, eliminates the existing requirement that parents unable to afford the cost of care for their emotionally disturbed children give up custody to the state so services can be provided.
The new law allows parents to not only retain custody of their children but also gives them a role in planning treatment and establishes a framework for the state to decide which cases should benefit from its limited financial resources.
“While it may have some flaws, it’s certainly something we should be proud of,” Health and Welfare Director Linda Caballero said.
Batt’s approval of the mental health legislation finishes his deliberations on all but two of the 409 bills sent him by lawmakers this winter.
Still awaiting action are a phaseout of the so-called marriage penalty in the state income tax and a requirement that the state either put up the cash or give local governments the authority to raise the money needed to finance any mandates the state imposes.
Batt has repeatedly stated reservations about the cost of eliminating the discrepancy between the standard deduction some 150,000 married couples take on their Idaho income tax and the one for single taxpayers that is $1,300 higher.
Even though the phaseout would not begin until the 1999 tax year and three more years to complete, the initial impact on the state would be $5 million rising to as much as $16 million a year when the phaseout is complete. That drain on the treasury against the backdrop of extremely tight state revenues now has the governor concerned.
But advocates maintained eliminating the penalty is a matter of equity that would encourage rather than discourage marriage. Some contend the $2-a-week maximum tax break could be critical in keeping Idaho families together.