By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – An unusual alliance of education supporters and mental health advocates rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday against the cuts proposed by Gov. Haley Barbour and the Senate leadership.
An estimated crowd of about 500 gathered on the second floor of the Capitol where they gave personal accounts of how additional cuts would hinder people from receiving vital services.
“Governor Barbour, legislators, hear me,” said Lori Dickerson of Tupelo, a registered medical surgical nurse who suffers from severe clinical depression and overt anxiety. “I did nothing to justify being put in jail and being cared for by a jailer who has not clue how to treat me.”
Dickerson, who kept the crowd spellbound as she recounted her personal experiences with the state mental health system and how it rescued her from the brink, spoke after Charlie Spearman, executive director of the Timber Hills Community Mental Health Center, based in Corinth.
Spearman had told the crowd the cuts proposed by Barbour and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant would result in the closure of mental health facilities and the need to place more people suffering mental illness in county jails. That is a practice that has been largely eliminated in recent years, Spearman said.
Dickerson said putting a mentally ill person in jail is equivalent “sending someone in the throes of a heart attack” to the jail to be treated because the emergency room is too busy.
The governor has advocated closing some mental health facilities, saying the state spends too much on institutional care and not enough on community-based care.
The rally was held as the Legislature is still at an impasse on passing a budget to fund mental health, education and other areas of state government.
In general, the Republican governor and the Senate leadership maintain the plan of the House Democratic leadership would spend too much one-time money on recurring expenses that would be hard to replace during the 2012 session.
School superintendents from Republican strongholds of Clinton and DeSoto counties advocated the House position on education at the rally.
The governor has said making cuts now will prevent deeper cuts or a tax increase in upcoming years.
The biggest difference in the reserves is that House leaders count about $44 million more in money originally aside to reimburse the federal government for work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. House leaders say the state no longer needs to save that money for a reimbursement since, six years after the storm, federal officials have not requested it.