A bill to extend Laura’s Law — named after Nevada County resident Laura Wilcox — was among several signed by Gov. Brown over the weekend.
The signing means the authority in the Laura’s Law statute for a county to operate, establish or continue a program of assisted outpatient treatment, which was set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year, has been extended until 2017.
The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Allen, D-Santa Rosa, extends a law that allows courts to compel people with severe mental illness and a history of arrest or violence to stay in treatment, as a condition of living in the community.
In Nevada County — the only county in the state to have implemented Laura’s Law — these procedures have reduced forced hospitalization by 61 percent and incarceration of individuals with severe mental illness by 91 percent, according to information provided earlier this year by Nevada County Behavioral Health Director Michael Heggarty. The reductions have saved Nevada County $1.81 for every $1 invested in Laura’s Law, Heggarty said.
Allen has said he sponsored the bill granting the extension because counties need to be able to compel people with severe and persistent mental illness to accept help. Other lawmakers, however, argued compulsory treatment is counterproductive and a throwback to an era when mentally ill people were kept in asylums.
Wilcox was 19 when she was shot and killed by Scott Harlan Thorpe as she was working as a receptionist at the public health department in 2001.
The 41-year-old Thorpe, who had a long history of mental illness and had resisted his family’s efforts to get him into treatment, opened fire and killed Wilcox and Pearlie Mae Feldman, 68, another public employee.
Thorpe then drove to Lyon’s Restaurant, where he shot and killed Michael Markle, 24, the manager of the restaurant.
Laura’s parents, Nick and Amanda Wilcox, led the campaign to legalize mandatory outpatient treatment. The original legislation expired in 2008, but “Laura’s Law” was extended by subsequent legislation until Jan. 1, 2013.
California’s 58 counties are allowed to decide for themselves whether to implement the law. Only one, Nevada County, has done so. Counties are limited in how they can fund Laura’s Law programs and cannot divert money from voluntary programs.
“We’re pleased it’s been extended and we can continue to implement the program in Nevada County, where it’s proven to work out really well,” said Amanda Wilcox. “We hope other counties will step up to the plate. It’s such a win-win, as far as getting people into needed treatment, and it saves counties money.
“We’ve shown that it works, that it’s a really good tool,” Amanda Wilcox continued. “We are heartened that the Governor recognized this is a good program, and that we have the opportunity to continue it ... The story needs to be about how it’s working.”
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson, who testified along with Heggarty in favor of the bill, said Laura’s Law “is a program that will help all of California, when other counties implement it.”
“Obviously the success we’ve had is a model for the rest of the state,” Anderson added. “Other counties are expressing greater interest.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229. The Associated Press contributed to this article.