Sen. Rob Hogg NEW
Sen. Rob Hogg, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

DES MOINES --- Iowa senators agreed Tuesday to pump nearly $43 million of so-called state surplus dollars into mental health services.

The concept is to avoid service cuts or waiting lists for counties functioning under a newly redesigned regional service delivery system.

Advocates said the Iowa Senate's 33-17 bipartisan passage would put majority Democrats in a stronger bargaining position in negotiations with Gov. Terry Branstad and House Republicans. Issues related to mental illness have been elevated by recent shooting incidents in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.

Before approving the measure, senators approved an amendment to boost state spending by about $13 million more than originally proposed for 2014.

"This bill is the single most important public safety bill we will vote on this session," said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

Hogg noted service providers are laboring under past funding cuts that threaten to force dangerous people released into communities at a time when the state has a surplus approaching $900 million.

"This is a big issue. After Sandy Hook, Iowans expect us to do something and this is a bill we can pass," Hogg said.

Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, though, argued against one-time money from the state's projected ending balance to fund an ongoing mental health redesign.

He expressed concern that majority Democrats were attempting to return to poor budgeting practice that got the state in a financial bind when recession hit in 2008 and forced a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in state spending.

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