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California sued over mental health program while Georgia reaches ' sweeping agreement' termed template for nation

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in the news, not over workers' comp issues this time but rather the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to an Oct. 23 article  at Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com, "The elimination of a $133 million state mental health program violates the federal rights of more than 20,000 special education students across California, a class-action lawsuit filed Friday against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and governmental agencies said. "The lawsuit alleges the state violated the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by cutting off the program known as 'AB 3632 services.' " 'State entities have the responsibility not to set in motion factors that would deprive children with mental illness or disabilities of mandatory federal services,' said Laura Faer, directing attorney for Public Counsel, one of the organizations that filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles." Also named as defendants were the the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles County office on Education, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and the state departments of Education and Mental Health.

Line-item veto

It was earlier this month when the governor killed funding for the program via a line-item veto, and some counties have already begun shutting down activities. "Faer said she will seek a temporary restraining order to halt the funding cutoff while the case is being heard."

'Unprecedented agreement' hailed in Georgia

Meanwhile, mental health officials and disability advocates are cheering a settlement in Georgia, describing the agreement as "sweeping" and "unprecedented." According to an Oct. 21 post at npr.org, "A sweeping agreement this week between the Justice Department and the state of Georgia highlights an aggressive new campaign by the Obama administration to ensure that people with mental illness and developmental disabilities can get services in their communities — and not be forced to live in institutions. "As part of the accord, Georgia agreed to specific targets for creating housing aid and community treatment for people with disabilities. Those with disabilities have often cycled in and out of the state's long-troubled psychiatric hospitals in the past. The state said it will set aside $15 million in the current fiscal year and $62 million next year to make the improvements." An Oct. 19 piece in the Los Angeles Times calls the settlement a "model" for enforcement and said the result will be to "move many patients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities out of the state's notoriously dangerous psychiatric hospitals and into the community."

Legal battles sparked by newspaper series

"It also caps a federal investigation that began after more than 100 suspicious deaths of patients in state mental hospitals were documented over a five-year period in a 2007 series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The federal investigation confirmed an 'alarming frequency' of preventable deaths, suicides and assaults in the hospitals."

A landmark Supreme Court ruling

State officials are happy that the agreement lets them avoid direct control from Washington,  keeping the state's mental health services under Georgia's authority. Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, is indirectly quoted in the Times as calling the agreement "a template" that will guide "nationwide enforcement of the principles laid out in a landmark Supreme Court disability rights case from 1999, Olmstead vs. L.C." "That case, Perez said, 'was hailed as the Brown vs. Board of Education of the disability rights movement — a recognition that unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities in institutions can be just as destructive as segregating children in schools.' " According to the npr.com article, "Georgia said it would improve its state hospitals in a January 2009 agreement with the Justice Department during the final days of the Bush administration. But a coalition of consumer groups filed a brief in opposition to that settlement, saying it failed to improve hospital discharge planning and services in the community. "The Justice Department later backed away from the original terms of the deal and eventually added the Olmstead issues in a separate complaint in January. Last month, the federal judge in the case ratified the original hospital agreement, but let the Olmstead portion proceed, which culminated in the second agreement."