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Legislative recess stalls final vote on outpatient commitment bill AB 2357 until August

by Delphine Brody Tuesday, Jul. 04, 2006 at 8:16 PM

The California Senate adjourned Friday without having voted on involuntary outpatient commitment extension bill AB 2357, affording the bill's opponents an additional month to defeat the legislation.

Legislative recess s...
involuntary.jpg, image/jpeg, 136x204

In an unexpected turn of events that may prove to be a boon to the coalition of mental health clients, survivors and advocates opposed to involuntary outpatient commitment extension bill AB 2357 (Karnette and Yee), the California Senate adjourned Friday afternoon without having voted on the bill, according to the Senate Daily Journal.

Last Thursday, the bill, 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, leading observers to predict it would come up for a final vote sometime that day or Friday. However, after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state's budget Friday, legislators adjourned for recess until August 7th. And as of this writing, California's official legislative information website has reported no change in the bill's status since Thursday, leading observers to the conclusion that the final vote has been delayed by a month.

One week ago, in a surprise move that sent advocates scrambling to mobilize constituents on short notice, the 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 Wednesday, and was then placed on the third reading file, where it awaits its final vote as item #155. The Senate's third reading of AB 2357 will provide the last opportunity for mental health clients, survivors and allies to stop the bill in the legislature, where most believe they will have the best chance of reversing its course.

Vote expected last week.

Expecting a final vote last week, a coalition of advocacy groups including the California Network of Mental Health Clients (CNMHC) redoubled efforts to to stop the bill in the legislature. The CNMHC distributed a floor alert with a summary of talking points in opposition to the bill on the Senate Floor Thursday. Legislative advocate Evelyn Abouhassan of Protection & Advocacy, Inc. (PAI) notes that while the bill is on the Senate Floor, there is no public comment, but she encourages individuals to write to legislators and let them know why they are opposed to the bill.

Clients, survivors and advocates across the state have vocally opposed this bill, noting that the statewide legislative battle has fueled a series of inflammatory editorials in some 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).

Governor 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.

An added month for public input.

Public input was almost precluded June 26 when the Appropriations Committee canceled its scheduled hearing on AB 2357 and sent the bill directly to the Senate Floor. 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. So when the bill was reported to the Senate Floor, inclusion of public input in the bill's analysis was nearly preempted. Only the unexpectedly early legislative recess allowed an additional month in which the public may write letters to legislators. Although the Senate Office of Floor Analyses prepared the bill's final analysis Wednesday following the bill's second reading, advocates say it's not too late for the public to write to Senators and urge them to oppose the bill. "It's always a good idea to contact the legislative offices," Abouhassan notes.

Obscure rule, questionable application.

The Appropriations Committee reported the bill to the Senate Floor for a second reading last week pursuant to Senate Rule 28.8, requiring that they not hear and promptly report any bill that does not appropriate money, according to attorney Dan Brzovic of 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 the rule 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. And 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 AB 1421 ("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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