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Assembly and Senate leaders directed the legislative counsel today to submit a letter to a state appellate court in an effort to overturn Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of $133 million for student mental-health funding.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez ordered the amicus letter sent to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in connection with a lawsuit filed this month by the California School Boards Association, the Los Angeles Unified School District and other education groups.

Steinberg and Pérez want the appellate court to adjudicate the issue directly rather than to have it heard first by a trial court.

The two Democratic legislative leaders contend that counties were under a legislative mandate to provide the mental-health services to special education students, and that Schwarzenegger overstepped his authority by vetoing funds for the program.

"The resulting harm to pupils who are in need of special education services from this state, and are entitled to receive those services, is substantial," the Legislative Counsel's Office said in its letter to the Southern California appellate court.

"It is essential, in order to minimize the ongoing confusion and harm that are resulting from the governor's erroneous declaration, that this issue be resolved without further delay," the letter added.

Pérez, in a written statement, said that "not only was this cut unwise, leaving counties and children who need services in limbo, it's also unconstitutional."

"The governor's veto was cruel, fiscally foolish and illegal," Steinberg added in a prepared statement.

Schwarzenegger, through an aide, said that such cuts were painful but necessary.

"The governor understands how difficult the cuts are but we can only spend the money we have, and as we now know, we have to make even more cuts to balance our budget," spokesman Aaron McLear said in a written statement.

Schwarzenegger said last month that he had to veto funding for the mental health services to build a more prudent reserve. Aides at the time said his veto essentially shifted responsibility for the program from counties to school districts.

Amended at 3:30 to say that the appellate court is a state court, and at 4:25 p.m. to add a quote from Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger spokesman.



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