CONCORD, NH – Reaction to Gov. Chris Sununu’s 13.1 billion, two-year budget was swift and sometimes along party lines.
The New Hampshire Democratic party headlined its news release: “In Partisan Speech, Sununu Lays Out Far Right Budget.”
Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley criticized Sununu for traveling last week instead of working on the budget.
“His half-baked budget proposal was long on partisan rhetoric and short on details or innovation,” Buckley said in a news release.
“His budget underfunded DCYF staffing, failed to address the student debt crisis, didn’t address the need to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates, cut legal aid funding, failed to provide any property tax relief, and he didn’t even mention transportation or infrastructure once.”
Buckley credited the democratically controlled House and Senate for having already worked for months on new legislation to “give all Granite Staters the opportunity to succeed.”
ACLU-NH praised Sununu’s budget for prioritizing mentally ill patients who are boarded in hospital emergency rooms.
The budget includes $1 million in one-time funding to assist hospitals with developing an interim mechanism to solve the problem, according to ACLU-NH’s news release.
In November 2018, ACLU-NH filed a lawsuit against the state challenging the practice of involuntarily detaining people experiencing mental health crises in hospital emergency rooms without providing them any due process, appointed counsel, or opportunity to contest their detention.
Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH’s legal director, said: “We commend the governor for committing resources to end the due process crisis that exists in hospital emergency rooms. People who are in hospital emergency departments because of a mental health crisis should not be deprived of their liberty without due process,” Bissonnette said.
“As to the long-term issue of how to resolve the waitlist at New Hampshire Hospital, the ACLU-NH continues to believe that the remedy is increased community-based outpatient services for crisis prevention, including increased funding for mobile crisis teams to help divert individuals away from hospital emergency rooms,” Bissonnette said.
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said Sununu stayed true to core Republican principles of low taxes, responsible spending, and reforms that promote efficiencies and improve services.
“He understands that there is a need to keep our economy strong, and provide essential services without new taxes or fees. This is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen from Democrats in the legislature, who seem to be searching for new things to tax, and new money to spend every day.”
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said: “We commend the governor on his call today to move Granite Staters with severe mental health issues to a Secure Psychiatric Unit and his proposal to increase funding for New Hampshire crisis centers that support survivors of domestic violence.
“However, there are critical issues facing Granite Staters that Governor Sununu’s budget proposal does not adequately address, or mention at all, including efforts Senate Democrats have led on this session like fully staffing DCYF, addressing New Hampshire’s emergency room boarding crisis, and meaningful property tax relief.”
The Disability Rights Center welcomed Sununu’s commitment to some critical mental health system issues, but cautioned more needed to be done.
“DRC-NH welcomes the governor’s commitment to moving civilly committed persons out of the prison, placing children and adolescents in a more appropriate treatment setting and giving persons confined in the emergency rooms due process without delay,” according to a DRC-NH news release.
The state’s performance on some areas of the Community Mental Health Agreement has declined in recent months. Those areas of non-compliance include assertive community treatment (ACT) services and supported housing, the release said.
“If the state redoubled its efforts to fully implement these services and expanded its investment in mobile crisis teams, it could free up needed bed space at New Hampshire Hospital for people currently confined in emergency departments and at the secure psychiatric unit in the prison,” the release said.
Without making investments in these services, any expansion of the state’s institutional and transitional bed capacity creates a significant risk of unnecessarily institutionalizing people who could and should be supported in their communities, according to DRC-NH.
Pamela Phelan, DRC-NH’s litigation director, said “As the governor and legislature move forward in the coming months, we urge them to carefully consider specific actions and oversight that will ensure a more balanced approach to improving our mental health system, rather than relying on an unnecessary increase in bed capacity.”