Bill would beef up Laura’s Law
A bill to bolster Laura’s Law to get people court-ordered, involuntary mental health treatment if they are a threat to themselves or others has been introduced in the state Legislature.
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) introduced the bill in Sacramento and was a supporter of Laura’s Law when it was extended in 2006. Laura’s Law was named after shooting victim Laura Wilcox, one of three people killed by mental patient Scott Thorpe on Jan. 10, 2001, in Nevada County.
With the Board of Supervisors’ blessing, Nevada County contracted in November with Sacramento firm Turning Point Treatment Center to begin its Laura’s Law program. The firm will handle the county’s 50 most challenging mental health cases and use Laura’s Law when petitions to the county Superior Court are accepted by a judge to do so.
The law calls for people such as Thorpe, who have stopped taking their medication or refused treatment and become dangerous, to get involuntary services from the county. The concept is called assisted outpatient treatment in Yee’s bill.
The senator’s streamlining bill would remove the rule that a number of voluntary services be tried before involuntary outpatient treatment. It would also remove county boards of supervisors’ approval to use the law and provide a planning stage for people released from hospitals to keep them mentally stable back in the community.
Nevada County Behavioral Health Director Michael Heggarty declined comment about Lee’s bill Monday because he hadn’t read it. Heggarty said Turning Point has started dealing with patients and the county is close to implementing Laura’s Law.
“April 1 is our target,” Heggarty said. “We expect four or at the most five (patients) involved ” with Laura’s Law.
Heggarty is getting departments that will be involved in Laura’s Law cases up to speed, including the Sheriff’s Office, public defenders, prosecuting attorney and the courts.
Referrals to the Laura’s Law program can come from families, law enforcement or agency care providers, among others, Heggarty said. The referrals will ask the court for an evaluation, and the results will be sent to the court if it is ordered. The evaluation performed by the Behavioral Health Department might conclude the patient needs assisted outpatient treatment, Heggarty said. If so, the judge makes the final decision whether to implement Laura’s Law or not.
The original bill had no funding tied to it, and only Los Angeles County used it experimentally in a court program for mentally ill defendants. The funds are now available after the 2004 passage of Prop. 63, Yee said, but many counties found the law still too strictly written.
“It is truly unfortunate that so many people who may have benefited from assisted outpatient treatment have gone untreated because of the counties’ failure to implement Laura’s Law,” said her father, Nick Wilcox.
After the tragedy, Wilcox and his wife, Amanda Wilcox, sued Nevada County over the death of their daughter, citing inadequate handling of Thorpe’s mental health by county Behavioral Health employees that could have prevented the tragedy.
The county has added guards and bullet-proof glass at various public-heavy offices since then and agreed to implement Laura’s Law when it settled the lawsuit with the Wilcoxes in 2004. The family received $150,000, but suit expenses took it to $55,000 and they also gave $20,000 to mental health care causes.
When Laura’s Law was re-enacted for in 2004, it was opposed by Sally Zinman, the former executive director of the California Network of Mental Health clients. The network is philosophically opposed to involuntary programs for mental health patients and thinks enough voluntary programs are in place to handle county clients.
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