Democratic legislators reject Sandoval's health care cuts


CARSON CITY -- Saying they refuse to leave patients without adequate medical care or beds in nursing homes, angry Democratic legislators repeatedly rejected Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed health care cuts.

At one point in a bitter hearing on Saturday, state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, teared up as he described growing up with a grandmother who spent 25 years in nursing homes after suffering a stroke.

"There is a reason these rates have to be maintained," Horsford said. "Once they drop, the adequacy of care gets compromised. These are our grandmothers. These are our grandfathers. These are our parents.

"Nevada has a high percentage of seniors, many without family members. For some people, this is how they live."

Horsford pleaded with members of a joint Assembly Ways and Means-Senate Finance committees hearing to reject the governor's spending cut proposals.

The Republican minority silently voted against Democrats' moves to restore health care cuts.

Democrats won votes to block a $15-a-day proposed cut in nursing home care, end a 5 percent reduction in reimbursing hospitals for treating indigent people and restore a 15 percent cut in home-based care for the elderly and a host of those health care spending reductions.

The Democratic majority also voted to keep providing dental care and eyeglasses to the poor.

While they won the vote Saturday, Democrats lack the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto by Sandoval on their $7 billion spending plan or to pass a $1.2 billion tax increase. Their budget plan is more than $900 million more than the governor's current proposal.

Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said the Democrats' actions were "just adding to the deficit at a time we have no money to support it."

No one interrupted Horsford as he talked about visiting his paralyzed grandmother in a variety of nursing homes, some with good care and some where patients had bedsores because there was insufficient staff to move them as often as they should.

During a previous state budget-cutting period, Horsford said they even had to drive to St. George, Utah, to visit his grandmother.

The state through the Medicaid program now spends $180 million a year to provide care for 3,100 patients in nursing homes. Slightly more than half of the Medicaid funds come from the federal government.

Sandoval originally proposed a $20-a-day cut, but restored $5 a day after securing additional federal funds. The state savings through the reductions would be less than $10 million

Later during the long hearing, Horsford called the governor's 5 percent reduction in state support for indigent hospital care "a tax on health care."

"I don't know why the other side doesn't see it that way," Horsford added.

Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, agreed, noting hospitals are unable to write off uncompensated health care.

"It is a rate increase on everyone else who can afford health care or who has insurance," he said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, led the move to reject Sandoval's cut in funds to provide eyeglasses to the poor.

"We cannot rely on the Lions Club to provide glasses," she said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.



PRISON AND WORK CAMP TO CLOSE NEXT YEAR

CARSON CITY — Legislators voted to close the 140-year-old Nevada State Prison in April, giving workers an extra six months to find jobs.

Gov. Brian Sandoval had proposed to close the Carson City prison Oct. 31, a step to save $17.3 million over the next two years.

But a joint budget committee adopted an alternative plan Saturday to delay the closure in the hope that prison officials could find jobs for the 107 prison employees who would have been laid off by the governor’s proposal. The delay in closure will reduce the savings by about $5 million.

Acting Corrections Director Greg Cox expressed hope that he could find jobs for almost all laid-off employees in Northern Nevada.

The vote to close the prison came during a joint meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

Moves to close the prison repeatedly were made during the last three years by Gov. Jim Gibbons but blocked by legislators and the State Board of Prison Commissioners.

Under the approved plan, more than 500 inmates from Nevada State Prison will be moved to the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs, while about 200 more will be moved to other prisons.

About 86 correctional officers will be transferred to those prisons, but the future job prospects of 107 employees remain uncertain.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said it is incumbent upon the state to provide a retraining program for the laid-off correctional officers. “These are employees without any options,” she said. “It is a very select job.”

Cox responded, “Almost everyone would have a job if they choose to leave the area and go to Las Vegas or other parts of the state.”

“Some folks can’t move,” Carlton replied. “They have wives, children, mortgages. There has to be a way to help them.”

During the meeting Saturday, legislators first rejected Sandoval’s proposal to close the prison by Oct. 31. That led to clapping from correctional officers in the audience.

But state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, advised the crowd to hold off on clapping.

Then legislative staff members announced the alternative plan to delay the closure by six months, a delay Horsford said would give employees more time to plan for their futures and High Desert prison time to prepare for the new inmates.

In response to Horsford’s questions, Cox said there are no plans to build any additional prisons in Nevada. Cox noted the Southern Nevada Correction Center in Jean has been closed for nearly three years.

That prison has space for 712 inmates, but Cox has not been able to find a private prison operator willing to rent the facility.

ED VOGEL/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU
 

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