Ordinarily, the public appearances and utterances of the Capitol’s politicians are fairly predictable – Jerry Brown notwithstanding.
However, what happened one day last week may have confused many Capitol observers.
A gaggle of Republican legislators, who are ordinarily critical of social services spending, called for more aid to 21 “regional centers” that provide or contract for services to the developmentally disabled, joining advocates demonstrating at the Capitol.
Simultaneously, other Republican politicians showed up at local service centers to push the same cause.
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They support a bill, which has been stalled by the Legislature’s majority Democrats, that would provide enough funds for 10 percent rate increases to service providers for nearly 300,000 clients.
“Increased access to care should be a budget priority,” said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, co-author of the bill. “Nearly 50 years ago, the state made a promise through the Lanterman Act that children and adults with developmental disabilities would be cared for. The promise should be kept.”
So what’s happening here?
A clue is Nielsen’s reference to the Lanterman Act, the generic term for a series of laws the Legislature enacted during the 1960s and 1970s, defining the rights of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
It was the major legislative accomplishment of Frank Lanterman, a Republican who served in the Assembly for 28 years and made mental health services his personal crusade.
Lanterman, the scion of a pioneer Southern California family, turned from music – he was an accomplished organist – and business to politics in middle age. Sitting on the Assembly budget committee in the 1950s, he became aware of the shabby treatment of the mentally impaired in state hospitals.
Over the next quarter-century, Lanterman oversaw most of the major legislation in the mental health field, including the landmark agreement during Ronald Reagan’s governorship to shift from state hospital care to local services.
After “Uncle Frank,” as he was universally known in the Capitol, retired in 1978, other Republicans continued to pursue the cause in his memory, although not always as vigorously, and have recently renewed their advocacy.
State financing for the regional centers – such as the one in San Bernardino that was attacked by two terrorists on Dec. 2, leaving 14 people dead – was slashed when the state faced recession-spawned budget crises, and Brown has been somewhat reluctant to restore the aid.
The provider rate increase that Republicans seek may be a bargaining chip in Brown’s demand, backed by Democrats, to raise some kind of taxes to underwrite Medi-Cal, the health care plan for the poor that finances many services for the developmentally disabled.
Republicans have refused so far to back a tax increase, arguing that the state is receiving billions of unanticipated dollars this year and doesn’t need it to adequately finance health services.