Laura’s Law extended through 2013
October 2, 2006
The law to halt potential violence by mental health patients, which was spurred by Nevada County shootings five years ago, has been extended to expire on January 1, 2013.
Whether the state’s new Proposition 63 mental health monies can be used to fund the bill remains uncertain, but extending the law’s expiration date at least gives bill proponents more time to come up with a funding plan.
Laura’s Law was named after 19-year-old college student Laura Wilcox, who was shot four times by patient Scott Thorpe at the front desk of the county’s Behavioral Health Department. The law allows for counties to involuntarily treat mental health patients under court order if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.
It passed the legislature in 2002 and was enacted in 2003, after Laura’s parents, Nick and Amanda Wilcox, fought for some relief from the state legislature. If a statute like Laura’s Law had been in place in 2001, their daughter probably would not have been murdered, according to the Wilcox’s.
The initial Laura’s Law had a sunset date of Jan. 1, 2008. The new version extends the law to Jan. 1, 2013. But like the first, the new version signed on Saturday by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has no funding tied to it by the Legislature, and at least for now, no financial teeth.
Now California counties and the state Mental Health Department are working on a plan for spending Prop. 63 monies, including whether any of this money can be used to fund Laura’s Law. Nevada County’s plan to spend $1 million in Prop. 63 monies sent to the state earlier this year called for $25,500 to be used for a half-time position to handle Laura’s Law-type cases.
According to a spokesperson for Laura’s Law sponsor and Assembly member Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), counties can fund it however they wish, which could be from state or federal grants, or the Prop. 63 funds if allowed.
Whatever happens, the Wilcox family was happy that some progress was made and the law had been extended.
“We took a much more active role this time,” Nick Wilcox said. “We extend our gratitude to Senator (Sam) Aanestad, who got the bill through the all-important health committee.”
Aanestad sits on that committee, which has five Democrats and four Republicans. The early fear was that a straight party vote would kill the bill’s extension.
But Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) was a co-sponsor of Laura’s Law, and Aanestad knew he had at least one swing vote. When it became clear in mid-June that Senator Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) would abstain, Aanestad sprang.
“I knew we had the votes, so I called for the question,” Aanestad said, and the bill sailed out of the committee with a 5-3 vote. “The fact that Kuehl was for it was crucial.”
According to Kuehl staff member Carol Wallisch, the senator backed the original Laura’s Law and felt strong enough about the extension to co-author it.
“She talked to a number of psychiatrists in her district,” Wallisch said. “Santa Monica has a lot of homeless psychiatric patients (impacting the community), so she decided that was the way to go,” with Laura’s Law.
In late August the bill passed through the Senate and Assembly and it went to the governor’s desk.
Aanestad said those who are against Laura’s Law are too hung up on the involuntary provision. Many who oppose it on that argue that good mental health programs would supersede the need for a Laura’s Law.
“They’re losing site of the whole picture,” Aanestad said. “What we had didn’t work, and this is all we got.”
Thorpe was found not guilty by reason of insanity, but was sentenced by Judge Carl Bryan II to life at the state mental hospital in Napa. To go free, he would have to be found mentally fit at a sanity trial in Nevada County.
Nick and Amanda Wilcox continue to work on legislation and ideas to prevent violence by guns.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4237.
Laura’s Law timeline
• Jan. 10, 2001, the shootings occur, killing three including Laura Wilcox, and wounding three.
• Jan. 1, 2003, the first Laura’s Law is enacted, with no funding.
• Sept. 30, 2006, Laura’s Law is extended with possible Prop. 63 mental health money to fund it.