Republicans oppose 988 crisis line bill over funding plan
A bill Democratic lawmakers say is necessary to fund Gov. Joe Lombardo’s budget to support the state’s 988 crisis hotline passed through the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, with two Republicans in opposition.
The measure, SB237, closes a loophole in existing law by adding fees on mobile phones, not just landlines, to fund crisis response programs and establish crisis stabilization center hospitals. Crisis response programs in Nevada are funded with one-time federal funds, and the 35-cent-per-month phone line fees would be the only source of funds to keep the programs going.
The bill would fulfill a budget recommendation from the governor to collect $28.4 million in new telecommunication fees over the 2023-25 biennium to maintain the state’s 988 crisis hotline program and support one existing full-time clinical program, as well as the construction of a crisis center.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) called that “vital infrastructure” during a mid-April budget meeting.
“Without that funding, it is a very significant difference in the services that we’re able to provide,” she said.
However, Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) said during the hearing on SB237 that she could not vote to pass the bill because she was unclear about the legality of using the funds to construct a building and the bill’s authorization of the State Board of Health to adjust the monthly surcharge no more than once every five years.
“It was represented to me that this could only be used for telecommunications, not for buildings,” Seevers Gansert said. “I still don’t know if the federal dollars through this fee are meant to be used for buildings, and I need to get a clarification on that.”
Shortly after the bill’s first hearing in the Senate, the governor’s office filed a second bill, AB466, which would achieve the same goal as SB237, but does not include the adjustment for the surcharge or the provision that the state can use the funding for the physical infrastructure of hospitals to become crisis stabilization centers.
The bill has not yet received a hearing in the Assembly. Lombardo’s spokesperson Elizabeth Ray did not provide details or comments about the bill or its genesis, but said in a text message on Tuesday that Lombardo “looks forward to AB466 advancing in the legislative process.”
Proponents of the Senate bill said the 988 fee, as approved by the federal government, does not prohibit the use of the funds for building crisis centers. They noted that federal law explicitly stipulates that states can use the money for creating the phone line and the crisis response available through the phone line, but not all of the follow-up care. It would be up to the Legislature to determine how the fees can be used.
Members of the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s fiscal analysis division said without the bill, the state would collect less revenue and would need to scale back crisis prevention programs significantly.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) voted no along with Seevers Gansert. The other Republican senator on the committee, Sen. Robin Titus (R-Wellington), was excused from the meeting.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Updated on 5/9/2023 at 11:40 a.m. to include additional details about another bill implementing the 988 surcharge.