Homelessness Panel Urges Supervisors to Adopt Laura’s Law

The Orange County Commission to End Homelessness unanimously voted last week to urge the Board of Supervisors to adopt Laura’s Law, the California statute that allows court-supervised outpatient treatment of adults with severe mental illness.

In a voice vote, the commission urged supervisors to act if the state Legislature extends the life of the law, due to expire this year, and if legislation specifies that the county may use state mental health funds for the program.

Each county has the option of adopting the law, but so far only Nevada County has fully implemented it. Los Angeles County is running a pilot program.

The 2002 law allows the courts to order a severely mentally ill adult to receive outpatient treatment if the court determines the adult is refusing voluntary treatment, has recently been hospitalized or has recent violent behavior and is likely to become dangerous or seriously disabled without court-ordered treatment.

The law became a big issue in Orange County in the aftermath of the beating of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police officers.

Acting county Health Care Agency Director Mark Refowitz has told the commission that the county counsel privately advised county supervisors that they can’t use state mental health services money to implement the law.

Supporters of Laura’s Law have suggested that the county is using that argument because it is afraid of lawsuits if it implements the law. But in reality, they argue, the county is vulnerable to lawsuits without the law.

Fullerton police killed Thomas, a 37-year-old transient suffering from schizophrenia, in July 2011. Two officers, Manual Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cincinelli, have been ordered to stand trial on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The city has agreed to pay Thomas’ mother $1 million, and his father, Ron Thomas, is suing for millions more.

A city task force also has recommended the county adopt Laura’s Law.