CANTON — A handful of St. Lawrence County lawmakers tried to shoot down a resolution Monday night that would oppose a state bill creating mandatory medication assisted treatment in county jails that could cost the county upward of $74 million.
The resolution, which passed 10 to 5, did not do so quietly.
Sponsored and co-sponsored by Larry D. Denesha, R-DeKalb Junction, and Chairman Joseph Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, respectively, the resolution opposes New York State Senate Bill S.2161B and Assembly Bill A.833B, relating to mandatory medication assisted treatment in county jails.
According to the resolution, the state legislation was noted as commendable in its intentions, however, it “does not include a local fiscal estimate and without full State funding support for this new mandate St. Lawrence County simply cannot support this legislation.”
The program would be optional for any inmate to participate at any time during the length of their stay in the county jail, the resolution notes.
Lawmakers cited the state Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors as estimating the cost to county governments outside New York City “easily exceeding” $74 million for the medication alone.
The county opposition to the state legislation echoes support of a similar resolution adopted by the state Association of Counties, which Legislator John H. Burke, R-Norfolk, said was a mistake and was something he couldn’t support.
“We shouldn’t withhold any treatment for addictions,” Mr. Burke told fellow lawmakers. “It does not give the inmate the right to have it. As indicated in this resolution, it’s an evidence based practice.”
Mr. Burke said it was important to have inmates return to society with the support of treatment for their addictions and that county lawmakers would be “remiss in asking our elected officials not to push this issue.”
Line by line, the county resolution recounts the law and how the state is engaged in a “significant effort to address the rising rate of substance use disorders.
It points to the evidence based treatment known as medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder that uses pharmacotherapy approved by the Federal Drug Administration in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to combat the addictions.
The issue, according to the resolution, is that the brunt of the cost will be burdened by the county and would require sheriff’s and county officials to provide all available forms of MAT to individuals struggling with addictions in local jails.
Agreeing with Mr. Burke, David A. Haggard, D-Potsdam, called the opposition “a money saving item” created by the Association of Counties.
“I agree with Mr. Burke, when the state sends a person to state prison we take charge of that person and to think that we would be withholding any type of treatment I find abhorrent and immoral,” Mr. Haggard said. “This is, as far as I can see, a money saving item, put together by the New York State Association of Counties and it doesn’t acknowledge the responsibility we have for people in our charge.”
But not all fellow lawmakers agreed, with William A. Sheridan, R-Hammond, calling the state law another unfunded mandate that he was “sick and tired of.”
“I’m going to be supporting this resolution because I am sick and tired of New York state putting forth new mandates on us on a monthly basis here, every time we meet, to take care of the issues that they should be funding,” Mr. Sheridan said. “This is another example of a new mandate. Sooner or later we just have to start opposing these resolutions that they are sending up to us from New York, in the Assembly and the Senate.”
A roll call vote was requested by Mr. Haggard and along with Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Lightfoot and Mr. Denesha, legislators James E. Reagen, R-Ogdensburg, Vice Chairman David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon, Henry Leader, R-Gouverneur, Dan Fay, D-Canton, Rick Perkins, D-Parishville, Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, and Rita E. Curran, R-Massena, voted in favor of the resolution.
Legislators Nance A. Arquiett, D-Winthrop, Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, and Nicole A. Terminelli, D-Massena, joined Mr. Burke and Mr. Haggard in their opposition of the resolution.