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(reprinted with kind permission from the San Francisco Chronicle)
After years of debate, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly voted in favor Tuesday of implementing Laura’s Law, the state measure that allows mentally ill people to be compelled into treatment by a court.
The 9-2 vote wasn’t a surprise, however: In May, Supervisor Mark Farrell announced he would move forward with implementing the law here, either by taking it to the ballot or, if he could get the votes, at the Board of Supervisors.
Last month, Farrell all but guaranteed a legislative win when he secured the support of progressive Supervisor David Campos by agreeing to amend the law to include creation of an oversight team that will try to get mentally ill people to accept voluntary treatment first.
“Recent studies and reports show that over 40 million American adults have mental illnesses,” Farrell said. “People are falling through the cracks … right here in San Francisco. We see it on the streets, in the community and in families every single day.”
Named for 19-year-old Laura Wilcox, who was killed by a psychiatric patient 13 years ago, the state law was passed in 2002. But counties have been slow to opt in – and perhaps nowhere has the law been met with more vociferous resistance than in San Francisco, which has struggled for years to deal with its mentally ill population.
Some mental health advocates have continued to fight the measure, but Campos said Tuesday that he chose to support Farrell’s proposal because he did not want the issue to be decided at the ballot box. If Laura’s Law was implemented by voters, it could only be changed by another popular vote.
Still, Supervisor Eric Mar, who voted against the measure along with Supervisor John Avalos, said he is worried the law could further stigmatize the mentally ill and may not offer people of different ethnic backgrounds “culturally competent” care.
Supervisor Jane Kim said she would have liked to see a pilot program instituted instead of permanent approval. The board instead accepted an amendment proposed by Kim that requires an outside group to conduct an assessment of Laura’s Law after three years. She ultimately voted for the law.
Relieves stressed agencies
Farrell said the law will give the city another tool for dealing with mentally ill residents and, it is hoped, help take some stress off the city’s public safety and emergency management departments. He said 44 states have similar laws.
“For me, Laura’s Law is about helping vulnerable individuals … get help they need,” he said. “Those in need deserve better and their families deserve better.”
Marisa Lagos is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @mlagos