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Final vote on involuntary outpatient commitment bill AB 2357 held over until August 14

by Delphine Brody Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006 at 8:58 PM

Mental health clients mobilize last-minute letter-writing campaign to stop bill in Senate

Final vote on involu...
involuntary.jpg, image/jpeg, 136x204

Mental health clients, survivors, advocates and allies have been given one final opportunity to mobilize constituents to write to Senators urging a "no" vote on involuntary outpatient commitment extension bill AB 2357 (Karnette and Yee). The bill remains on the Senate Third Reading file, now Item 128, and its final reading and vote have been held over to the Monday, August 14th, 4 PM Senate Floor Session.

Yesterday's postponement marks the third time the bill's final vote has been unexpectedly delayed. The bill's scheduled third reading was most likely postponed due to its position in the order of the Third Reading File. Its third reading and final vote were initially expected June 29 or 30; they were then postponed until August 7 due to legislative recess. The vote was then held over to the next Senate Floor Session on August 10, but the bill has still not been read, moving its final reading to Monday.

The delay provides opponents of the extension of outpatient committment an additional day and a weekend to mobilize a letter-writing campaign among mental health clients, advocates and allies.

Last Friday, the California Network of Mental Health Clients (CNMHC) distributed a Floor Alert with talking points in opposition. Today the CNMHC is asking clients and allies who have not yet written to their Senators to send in their faxes and e-mails by Sunday, and mail their letters by this evening, to ensure that they are received by Senators prior to the vote.

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 the bill, the California Senate adjourned June 30 without having voted on the bill, giving opponents a chance to mount a letter-writing campaign to urge Senators to vote "no" when they reconvene. 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.

On June 29, 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 the next. However, after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state's budget the next day, legislators adjourned for recess until August 7.

Bumped to the Floor, then put on ice.

On June 26, in a surprise move that sent 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 June 28, and was then placed on the third reading file, where it now awaits its final vote.

Expecting a final vote that week, a coalition of advocacy groups including the 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 June 29.

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 June 28 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.

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