California, US - GOVERNOR DAVIS SIGNS LAURA'S LAW 9/28/2002
LAURA'S LAW SIGNED BY GOVERNOR DAVIS - NEW LAW REFORMS TREATMENT OF
SERIOUSLY MENTALLY ILL
'Laura's Law' Will Allow Court-Ordered Treatment Of Mentally Ill.
By Dan Morain And Carl Ingram, Times Staff Writers
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation Saturday permitting
authorities to treat severely mentally ill people against their will if
judges conclude that they cannot care for themselves and are likely to
The legislation represents a significant amendment to a state law that
protects the civil rights of mentally ill people, the 30-year-old
Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. The act helped lead to the emptying of
state hospitals, which once housed more than 30,000 people but now care
4,000. All but about 800 of those remaining patients have committed
crimes and were sent to institutions by courts.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 1421, establishes a hearing process in
which judges will determine whether the person has a history of failing
to comply with treatment and has, within four years, exhibited "serious
violent" behavior against others, or tried to hurt himself or herself.
The individual could be represented by a public defender or a private
Davis said he expects the measure to help reduce homelessness,
hospitalization and involvement in the criminal justice system.
"This is a critical step in helping the seriously mentally ill,
as their families," Davis said in a statement, predicting that the
would "help end the cycle of hospitalization, quitting treatment
Davis' decision to sign the bill marked a victory for Assemblywoman
Helen Thomson (D-Davis) in her final year in the lower house. Thomson
tried for five years to win approval of the measure, which was backed
by law enforcement and many family members of the mentally ill. Liberals
in the Legislature, siding with some patients' rights activists, had
blocked its passage until this year.
Thomson called the final version of the bill "Laura's law,"
Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old woman who worked at a Nevada County mental
health facility and was killed by a man whose mental illness had gone
untreated. It is similar to a New York law adopted in 1999 after a
mentally ill man pushed 32-year-old Kendra Webdale into the path of a
As part of the compromise, counties will have the option of
participating, and would bear the costs. People would be treated in
expanded outpatient programs considered the "least restrictive"
necessary to achieve recovery.
Under current law, people generally can be detained for 72 hours. In
extreme cases, they can be held for six months. The law provides
parents and other family members of adults who are mentally ill little
opportunity to intervene on the individual's behalf. Thomson's bill
will allow family members to testify at hearings.
"I don't think it will have any impact on the population in state
hospitals," said Stephen W. Mayberg, director of the state Department
of Mental Health. "Our goal is to treat people not in institutional