Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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State budget to restore employee pay, reduce class sizes

State workers will get their 2.5 percent pay cut restored, kindergarten classes will get smaller for the next school year and efforts will begin to prepare for an influx of low- and middle-income people to apply for medical services.

It’s all part of the two-year, $16.5 billion budget adopted by the Legislature to be financed by state and federal tax dollars, grants and license fees. It becomes effective Monday, the beginning of the fiscal year.

“The biggest deal in the budget is health care reform,” said Jeff Mohlenkamp, director of the state Department of Administration, which prepared the budget.

With the the federal Affordable Care Act, Mike McMahon, administrator of the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said the number of people eligible for Medicaid will jump to an estimated 490,000 from the current 340,000.

Medicaid is the government health insurance program for low-income families, and the federal law expands eligibility for coverage. The welfare division is responsible for screening those who qualify.

Most of the money will come from the federal government.

At the same time, McMahon expects the number of those on Aid to Families with Dependent Children to drop from 28,000 now to 24,000. As the economy continues to grow, he said many are finding employment.

Lobbyists for state workers persuaded the Legislature to restore the 2.5 percent reduction in pay that started four years ago.

That was contrary to the recommendation of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who suggested the six unpaid furlough days be reduced to three instead of restoring the pay cut.

Rorie Fitzpatrick, interim state superintendent of public instruction, said the “really big news is investment in early education.” Kindergarten classes are limited to 21 children per teacher.

There was testimony during the Legislature that some of these classes had 35 students or more. School districts are recruiting teachers or shifting instructors around to meet the requirement, she said. And districts can request a waiver.

Set aside for the first time in the state's budget is $50 million to help young students who are English-language learners. Fitzpatrick said about 78 percent of the money will go to Clark County schools.

“We’re getting it right at the front end so we don’t have to fix it at the back end,” she said. The budget also includes $1.5 million for Jobs for America's Graduates to help students graduate from high school and be ready for a career or college.

To answer complaints that Southern Nevada has been shortchanged in higher education funds compared with the north, lawmakers adopted a revised formula, sending more money to UNLV and Nevada State College. That meant less money for UNR and for the community colleges, particularity in Carson City and Elko.

The troubled Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas will receive $4 million to boost staffing after news reports documented a pattern of the facility sending patients out of state by Greyhound bus without adequate plans for future treatment needs.

The hospital made changes including a requirement that chaperones would accompany patients on bus trips to other states.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tracey Green told the Legislative Interim Finance Committee that there has not been a need for chaperones because family members of the patients had been arranging for transportation.

The hospital has retained its national accreditation. Green said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will make unannounced inspections in the next two months to determine if the state is adhering to its plan of correction. The center decides if the hospital gets federal money for treatment of some of its patients.

In addition, the Legislature approved $3 million to renovate Stein Hospital, which once served mentally ill patients. It will provide more beds so individuals in emergency rooms can get treatment more quickly.

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