News Article Details

Jack Latvala urges Rick Scott to fill mental health, drug abuse funding gap

Naples Daily News - 8/29/2017

Aug. 28--The Florida Senate's budget chief on Monday requested Gov. Rick Scott use his executive authority to fill a $20 million budget hole for mental health and substance abuse services.

Sen. Jack Latvala, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, proposed that Scott extend Florida's state of emergency as a result of the opioid crisis to use state reserve funds for the $20 million gap.

Scott extended the state of emergency Monday by an additional 60 days. Without his action, it would have expired Tuesday.

The Naples Daily News reported Aug. 4 that the Legislature let a $20.4 million federal grant that went to basic mental health and substance abuse services quietly expire last session, which Latvala referred to in his letter to Scott.

"Recently, the media reported that Florida exhausted its accumulation of $20 million of federal funds. The Legislature allocated these accumulated funds to providers across the state to increase the capacity of our mental health and substance abuse system. Now that these accumulated funds have been exhausted, the continued sustainability of these capacity-building efforts is now in grave jeopardy," wrote Latvala, R-Clearwater.

The letter was signed by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

Scott's office didn't comment on whether he would use his executive authority to fill the budget shortfall but said he would address the matter through his budget proposal to be released soon.

"Gov. Scott will be announcing his legislative package to fight this national epidemic in the coming weeks, which will include significant increases of funding. We are hopeful the Legislature will support the governor's proposal," Scott's spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

During a state of emergency, the governor can spend money appropriated for other purposes or spend unappropriated surplus funds, according to Florida statute.

Specifically, Latvala requested $5 million for detox services, $9 million for residential treatment, $3 million for outpatient treatment and recovery support, $2.4 million for prevention and $600,000 for specialized services.

The Daily News also reported that local mental health and substance abuse leaders were concerned a $27 million federal grant Scott procured for Florida by declaring the state of emergency would mostly benefit pharmaceutical companies. Latvala raised similar concerns in his letter.

"While I very much appreciate the $27.2 million in federal grant funding for this fiscal year and next from the federal government, I am acutely aware that these federal funds can only be used for specific opioid-related purposes, including medication-assisted treatment for addiction, training and resources for first responders, and better access to overdose treatment," wrote Latvala.

Latvala had initially considered proposing to increase the funding during a joint House-Senate budget meeting Sept. 15, which House budget Chairman Carlos Trujillo said he would be open to discussing. Trujillo, R-Miami, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

AP Florida reporter Gary Fineout later questioned on Twitter the constitutionality of increasing the funding during such a meeting.

"Of course it's constitutional," said Latvala on Monday, declining to elaborate further.

By going through Scott, however, he can circumvent the legislative process.

"The governor can do it all by himself under the emergency order," Latvala said. "No legislative action required.

"He spent $61 million on Zika, which no one has died of."

Latvala laid out the opioid crisis as one of his top priorities for his gubernatorial bid during his campaign rollout Aug. 16 in Hialeah.

In a Twitter response to potential GOP gubernatorial primary competitor House Speaker Richard Corcoran's call to end public financing for campaigns, Latvala again pushed the issue.

"No citizen ever mentioned public financing as an issue. Many ARE concerned about opioids, schools falling apart, water quality," Latvala tweeted on Aug. 24. "Asking @richardcorcoran to join me working on real issues that affect people's lives."

Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

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(c)2017 Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.)

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