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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to create an alternative treatment court for homeless with mental health issues unanimously passed the California Senate May 25.

The legislation would authorize courts to place adults with psychotic disorders, along with misdemeanor defendants found mentally incompetent to stand trial, in a year-long mandated program.

Sen. Thomas Umberg (D- Santa Ana) and Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced SB 338, known as the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court Program. Ten other senators and five assembly members co-authored the bill. No senator voted against the bill in any point of the legislative process.

The bill must pass the State Assembly to reach Newsom’s desk.

Revision

A May 19 revision clarified and changed some of the bill.

If passed, now the law would require insurance policies to cover the cost of developing a mental health evaluation.

The revision would also require state funding to provide each CARE Court participant with the “medically necessary mental health services, medications, and supportive services,” but only if other state, local, federal and insurance funds cannot provide those services.

The revision changed the qualifications for the program. Now, people would qualify for CARE Court if—in addition to the already established requirements of being older than 18 years, suffering from a severe mental illness, having a psychotic disorder diagnosis and not being in stabilized ongoing treatment—the individual has one of the following:

  • Their impaired insight or judgment presents a risk to their health and safety
  • The person is in need of services and support in order to prevent a relapse or deterioration that would be likely to result in grave disability or serious harm to the person or others, as defined in Section 5150.
  • Participation in CARE Court would be the least restrictive alternative necessary to ensure the person’s recovery and stability.
  • It is likely that the person will benefit from CARE Court.

The amendment also allows a prosecuting attorney, tribal judges or the individual to initiate CARE Court proceedings.

CARE Court hearings are now proposed to be closed to the public, unless the individual demands a public hearing, or the hearing officer decides the public interest in an open hearing outweighs the individual’s interest in privacy.

The amendment cut the interval for status conferences on the individual’s performance under the CARE plan from 180 days to 90 days, and allows a one-year extension of an individual’s CARE plan.

Analysis

The Judicial Council estimated the program would cause additional costs around $45 million, through additional hearings, expanding self-help centers and updating court case management systems. The council predicted the bill would result in delays and prioritization of court cases and would impact access to justice unless it came with additional funding.

Critics and supporters

Despite its legislative support, 54 organizations have filed opposition to the program, including San Bernardino Free Them All, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Human Rights Watch, County Behavioral Health Directors Association, California Psychological Association and ACLU, California Action.

“CARE Court flies in the face of any evidence-based approach to ending homelessness. It requires a person to be court-ordered into a treatment plan that includes a ‘housing plan,’ without any guarantee that the plan will ever lead to permanent housing,” wrote an opposition coalition.

Twenty-five organizations have filed to support the bill, including Newsom, five cities, Psychiatric Physicians Alliance of California and eight San Francisco business or nonprofits. The California District Attorneys’ Association supports the program.

Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson supported the program in a joint mayoral address in favor of the program with the mayors of Los Angeles, San Diego and six other California cities.

Read our prior coverage here and here.

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