By Jon Campbell
ALBANY, NY-- New York's new gun laws include an "unfunded mandate of an unknown and potentially disastrous magnitude" for county and municipal governments, according to a statewide group of local mental health officials.
The state Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors in recent days has circulated a memorandum opposing a specific provision in the gun-control package that would require mental-health professionals to report any patients they believe could be dangerous to themselves or others.
Those reports in most cases would be filed with local mental-health departments, which would be required to assess the claim and send it to the state.
"Local mental-health offices are simply not set up to do this type of reporting so the need to receive and assess all of these new reports will require the hiring of at least hundreds, if not more than a thousand, of additional local staff on a statewide basis," the memo reads. "This will cost local governments millions of dollars per year."
Hospitals will likely require a report to be filed for each person admitted to a psychiatric unit, according to the conference's memo. That would add up to hundreds of thousands of reports each year; a total of 210,000 people were discharged from psychiatric units in New York in 2010, the most recent state statistics available.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration -- which ushered the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act through the Legislature in January - disagreed with the mental-health directors' position. The law would not require hospitals to report each psychiatric patient, a spokesman said.
"Their position is incorrect and far broader than what the law actually says," Rich Azzopardi, the spokesman, said in a statement. "Administration officials have met with Conference members to set the record straight, listen to their concerns and offer our assistance in enacting one of the SAFE Act's key protections to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals."
But it may be a question of liability, the conference claims. A local mental-health office could be sued based on whether it approves or denies a report from private professionals, according to the memo.
The group called for local governments to be taken out of the reporting chain, instead allowing doctors and nurses to report directly to the state.
"To require local authorities to take on this huge responsibility and enormous potential liability with no resources in the current financial atmosphere is both unrealistic and unfair," the memo reads.