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Final vote expected today on involuntary outpatient commitment bill AB 2357

by Delphine Brody Saturday, Jul. 01, 2006 at 3:44 AM

Invoking an obscure senate rule Monday, California Senate Appropriations Chair Kevin Murray bumped involuntary psychiatric treatment bill AB 2357 to the Senate Floor, scuttling public input and fast-tracking the bill to its final vote today. Ardently opposed by a coalition of consumers, survivors, ex-patients and allies, the bill seeks to extend "Laura's Law", the state's soon-to-sunset outpatient commitment law.

This morning, involuntary outpatient commitment extension bill AB 2357 (Karnette and Yee), which would extend the sunset date of soon-to-expire outpatient commitment law AB 1421 ("Laura's Law"), was placed on the Senate's third reading file, indicating that it will likely come up for a final vote sometime today.

On Monday, in a surprise move that has left advocates scrambling to mobilize constituents on short notice, the State Senate Appropriations Committee canceled its scheduled hearing on AB 2357, reporting it out of the committee as a "non-money bill" to be heard on the Senate Floor. The bill was read a second time on the Senate Floor yesterday. Listed as item #155 on the third reading file, the bill was probably voted on today.

Last chance to stop the bill in the legislature.

Arriving with unexpected speed and announced to the public only a few hours before they take place, the Senate's second and third readings of AB 2357 will provide the last opportunity for mental health clients, survivors and allies to stop the bill in the legislature. The California Network of Mental Health Clients (CNMHC) distributed a letter in opposition to 2357 on the Senate Floor today. As of this writing, there has been no word from the Capitol as to whether the bill has been voted on yet.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the bill into law if it crosses his desk, potentially enabling California counties to expand their capacity to court-order adults to receive psychiatric treatment against their will.

Clients, survivors and advocates across the state have vocally opposed this bill, noting that the statewide legislative battle has fueled a series of defamatory editorials in California's largest daily newspapers, rekindling tensions between mental health stakeholders and undermining the tentative trust that characterized relations between clients/survivors and county mental health officials during the first-year honeymoon of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).

Public input lost in the shuffle.

Public input has been scuttled by the timing of the hearing. Letters from the public must be submitted at least one week in advance of the weekday prior to the hearing in order to be included in the bill analysis, but when the Appropriations Committee unexpectedly canceled its hearing on AB 2357 Monday and sent the bill directly to the Senate Floor, inclusion of public letters in the bill's analysis was preempted. The final Floor Analysis was prepared yesterday following the second reading and published today. Senate Floor analyses are prepared by the non-partisan Senate Office of Floor Analyses under the Senate Rules Committee, directed by Secretary of the Senate Greg Schmidt.

Obscure rule, questionable application.

The Appropriations Committee reported the bill to the Senate Floor for a second reading pursuant to Senate Rule 28.8, requiring that they not hear and promptly report any bill that does not appropriate moneyAccording to attorney Dan Brzovic of Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (PAI), who attended Monday's public meeting of the committee. The move came as a shock to Brzovic and to Client advocate Dave Hosseini of the California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies (CASRA), both of whom attended what they expected to be the bill's hearing to speak in opposition.

Appropriations Chair Kevin Murray's (D-Los Angeles) invocation of Senate Rule 28.8 to bump the bill to the Senate Floor "subverts any legitimate process", Hosseini charges. The fairly obscure rule has been used to deter the public from commenting on pending legislation, Hosseini argues. AB 2357 threatens to take away the civil rights of thousands of Californians, advocates say. Sending such a bill directly to the Senate Floor after only one committee hearing, Hosseini contends, signals "the corruption of the process."

Murray's assertion that the bill would not appropriate money from the State is disputed by CNMHC Executive Director Sally Zinman, who pointed out in an open letter to Murray and other members of the committee that the bill would in fact be extremely expensive to implement, because of the administrative infrastructure, court and legal costs it would incur. Zinman notes that the infrastructure, court, and legal expenses of implementing New York State’s Kendra’s Law, on which Laura's Law was based, have cost New York almost twice what it spent on programs and services under the law.

AB 2357: recent history.

Since the bill's introduction in February, the CNMHC and representatives of other agencies in the Coalition Advocating for Rights, Empowerment and Services (CARES) have been actively educating legislators about the bill's dangers and speaking in opposition.

As amended April 4 in Assembly Health, the bill would extend the sunset date of Laura's Law by five years (to 2013) and require the California Department of Mental Health (DMH) to submit a report and evaluation to the governor and the legislature by 2011 of each AB 1421/2357 program implemented in whole or in part. As AB 2357 made its way through first the Assembly and then the Senate, the bill's authors, Assemblymembers Karnette (D-Long Beach) and Yee (D-San Francisco) have picked up nine nominal co-authors over the past two months in both chambers, including one Republican co-author in the Assembly and another, Samuel Aanestad (R-Nevada City), in the Senate.

In AB 2357's first and only State Senate committee hearing on June 14, the bill was passed by the Health Committee by a narrow margin of 5-3 following a heated and contentious discussion.

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