05/15/2013 11:34 am ET Updated Jul 15, 2013

Senator Steinberg Stands in Way of Laura's Law

Laura's Law helps the most seriously mentally ill Californians: people who are so ill, they don't know they are ill and therefore won't accept voluntary treatment. It allows courts to order a small group of people who have serious mental illness and a history of dangerousness to stay in treatment as a condition of living in the community. It has reduced arrest, incarceration, hospitalization and length of hospitalization in the two counties that use Laura's Law.

There are two reasons more counties don't implement Laura's Law. Three million dollars in Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds are going to Disability Rights California and they are using those funds to threaten to sue counties that use any MHSA funds to implement Laura's Law even though such expenditure is clearly allowed. Laura's Law requires county boards of supervisors to vote to implement Laura's Law and certify that no voluntary programs will be cut to do it.

In reaction to widespread outrage that people were being denied access to MHSA funded programs merely because they were so sick they were eligible for Laura's Law, Senator Steinberg introduced SB 585 in early April. The ostensible purpose was to clarify that MHSA funds could be used for people in Laura's Law. So far so good.

At the same time, Senator Leland Yee introduced SB 664 that would have eliminated the requirement for boards of supervisors to vote to implement Laura's Law and the requirement to certify that other programs are not being cut to implement Laura's Law.

But on May 14, 2013, Senator Steinberg had a change of heart. He eviscerated Yee's bill and folded it into his own, so the likely outcome will still be no one will get entry to Laura's Law in spite of money being available.

Steinberg's bill added back a requirement that boards of supervisors vote (directly or through the budget process) to implement Laura's Law. His bill adds back a requirement that counties certify no voluntary programs will get cut to implement Laura's Law. Put another way, Steinberg is requiring counties to send the most seriously ill to the back of the line for services rather than the front. The exact opposite of what Prop 63 was supposed to do.

What is especially disingenuous is that no new programs are needed to implement Laura's Law. Nevada county implemented Laura's Law merely by giving persons with serious mental illness who are under court orders access to the same programs that serve those not under court orders. Steinberg's bill makes that approach impossible in other counties.

If Steinberg wants to help the most seriously ill get access to treatment he should introduce a bill that states people under court order should not be denied accessed to MHSA funded programs, and delete the paragraph in Laura's Law requiring supervisors to vote to implement a Laura's Law program and certify no other programs will be cut.

It's easy to do. Steinberg can do it. Why won't he?