The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt Laura's Law, which gives the county the power to force certain people with severe mental illness to receive treatment. Nevada County in northern California is the only other county that has implemented the law.
As members of the public applauded loudly, the supervisors voted unanimously to adopt the law. The program is expected to cost between $5.7 million and $6.1 million annually for about 120 patients, said Mary Hale, deputy director of behavioral health services at the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Laura’s Law is intended for a narrow segment of the population: mentally ill people who have landed in jail or hospitals because of their condition. It only applies to those who might be a danger to themselves or others, because they don’t recognize they need treatment.
Many in the audience wore "Thank You for Laura's Law" stickers.
About 16 people addressed the board before it voted. Most supported adopting the law.
Steve Pittman, president of the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Orange County, talked of his brother John, who has schizoaffective disorder, which is characterized by paranoia, delusions and radical mood swings.
Pittman wondered if his brother's life would have been better if he had been forced to undergo treatment, even when he didn't want it.
A few in the audience opposed Laura's Law, mainly expressing concern that forced treatment would be a limitation of the freedoms of the mentally ill.
The type of treatment foreseen by the law is "unproven...costly...unjust, and...unnecessary," said Ann Menasche, an attorney with Disability Rights California.
In response to the opponents, Supervisor Todd Spitzer said, "I draw the line with those who testify about liberty.You don’t have liberty when you can’t control your own destiny."
Hale noted that while Laura's Law would permit involuntary treatment, it does not permit involuntary medication.
Spitzer said that, since Orange County is just the second California county to adopt the law, it has a responsibility to other jurisdictions to measure its effectiveness.