Second try for Laura’s Law
Laura’s Law, which was spurred by the Jan. 10, 2001, fatal shootings in western Nevada County, has been reintroduced in the California legislature with expected opposition.
The law was named after Laura Wilcox, who was killed along with two other people that day by mental patient Scott Thorpe. After her death, Laura’s parents, Nick and Amanda Wilcox, were prominent in getting Laura’s Law passed in 2002.
The law allows California counties to commit mental patients involuntarily to treatment with a court order if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others. The initial law included no money to implement it and sunsets on Jan. 1, 2008.
The Wilcoxes have said for several years that their daughter could still be alive if a Laura’s Law had been in place and put to use with Thorpe. His strange behavior prior to the crimes, a cache of guns and his family’s pleas to the county for help should have triggered an official detaining of him, they said.
However, a mental health advocacy group lawyer said Wednesday that existing state law allows involuntary treatment for mental patients at risk to others and themselves and that Laura’s Law takes it too far.
Don Brzovic, an attorney for Protection and Advocacy Inc., said his group interprets Laura’s Law to allow involuntary holds on mental patients who have been hospitalized before and are now refusing to take their psychiatric medicines or further treatment.
“If you expand the criteria to include more people, it will become more random and arbitrary than it already is,” Brzovic said.
Nick Wilcox said Protection and Advocacy is against involuntary treatment for anyone as a civil rights issue, to begin with.
“Another argument (for Laura’s Law) is that many, many people who are mentally ill do not recognize it, do not seek treatment and also do not take their medication and end up doing bad things,” he said.
Wilcox said the lack of funding for the initial Laura’s Law and a lawsuit that stopped it at the Los Angeles County jail rendered it toothless and caused his family to spring back into action.
The new version of the law, AB 2357, from Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), is the same as the last but removes the sunset, Wilcox said. He hopes it can now be truly implemented with Prop. 63 Mental Health Act monies approved by voters last year.
“It’s important to note that Nevada County wants to implement it through their Prop. 63 proposal,” Wilcox said Wednesday. That proposal outlined for the state how the county intends to use monies from the proposition to fund mental health programs. The county agreed in 2004 that Prop. 63 monies would be used here to implement Laura’s Law as part of a lawsuit settlement with the Wilcox family following the shootings.
Joan Buffington helped draft the Prop. 63 proposal for the county through a public input process that will end at a meeting on Friday, March 17, at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. Buffington said $30,000 has been allocated in the plan for Laura’s Law so far in order to meet the county’s legal commitment to the Wilcoxes.
How much more of the expected $1 million a year from Prop. 63 the county can spend on Laura’s Law implementation will be largely determined by the state’s guidelines for its use, she said.
Wilcox said he and his wife will visit state legislators during the next few weeks to get them to pass and fund the law. He said the law already has bipartisan support, despite the opposition.
To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4237.
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