California Senate Rejects Plan To Construct New Prison Medical Facilities
On Tuesday, the California Senate rejected a bill (SB 1665) that would have provided nearly $7 billion to reform the medical facilities and mental health services for state prisoners, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Senate's rejection of the bill raises the possibility of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordering the state to use money from the general fund to pay for the new construction, rather than issue bonds to fund the project (Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
Henderson seized control of the state prison health care system after finding that the quality of health care fell below constitutional standards.
H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the Department of Finance, said using general fund money to pay for the project could harm other services as the state struggles with a $15.2 billion budget deficit (Thompson, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/27).
J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed receiver for the prison health care system, requested $7 billion to construct up to seven facilities with 10,000 beds for inmates with long-term medical and mental health problems. The plan also would renovate clinics at 33 of the state's prisons.
Kelso aims to begin construction next year.
The proposal would authorize borrowing the funds through a type of bond that does not need voter approval and would be repaid over 25 years, with average annual interest payments of $527 million, according to a Senate analysis.
Sen. Michael Machado (D-Linden) authored the bill to enact Kelso's plan (Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
Senate Republicans objected to the bill's cost and said it had not been coordinated with other plans that could potentially affect the prisons, including a proposal to settle a federal court case dealing with prison overcrowding.
The vote on the bill was 22-14, five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance the measure to the Assembly (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/27).
Machado said he would request another vote on the bill on Thursday.
Kelso said he remained optimistic that Senate Republicans would change their minds by Thursday. He said he would ask Henderson to order the state to spend the funds only as a last resort (Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
If the bill is rejected a second time, Kelso said he would ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to allocate $100 million in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year for design and engineering work on the proposed health care facilities (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/27).
In a statement, the governor's office said "the receiver's plan is necessary to bringing our prisons' health care up to constitutional levels, as required by the federal courts. We're confident that the Legislature understands the need to improve our prison health care system and do it in a financially responsible way" (Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said he thought some Republicans could change their mind by Thursday if they were able to coordinate the receiver's plan with a proposed lawsuit settlement and last year's prison spending measure, which provided $7.4 billion to add 53,000 state and county prison beds (Los Angeles Times, 5/28).
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) said, "We have no choice but to pay ... You don't really get an opportunity to fool around with a federal court judge" (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/27).
Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Wednesday reported on the decision. The segment includes comments from Kelso (Russ, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 5/28).
In addition, KQED's "KQED News" on Tuesday included a discussion with Kelso about the decision (Wilkinson, "KQED News," KQED, 5/27).