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About Mental Health

The Novato City Council this week threw its support behind implementation of Laura’s Law, a controversial health statute that gives local judges the authority to order severely mentally ill individuals to undergo outpatient treatment.

On a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Josh Fryday and Eric Lucan opposed, the council approved sending a letter supporting adoption of Laura’s Law to the Board of Supervisors.

Councilwoman Pam Drew, who brought the topic to the council, said she’d hoped for more but was happy with the end result.

“I was hoping that the letter might be beefed up a little bit and might be a little stronger, but what I decided last night was this (conversation) has been ongoing since August and the county was going to review it at a date I was unsure of, so I decided we better send a letter of support right away so that we knew it would get there in time.”

A shift in seats on the Board of Supervisors last month put Laura’s Law in motion across Marin, after newly elected Supervisor Dennis Rodoni took over for Steve Kinsey, who retired. Rodoni, Novato Supervisor Judy Arnold and San Rafael Supervisor Damon Connolly all have expressed support for the law.

Under the law, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2002, Assembly Bill 1421, also known as Laura’s Law, targets those who are too ill to recognize they need treatment.

To qualify, a person must have a serious mental illness that resulted in a psychiatric hospitalization or incarceration twice in the previous three years or resulted in violent behavior. While outpatient treatment can be ordered, medication cannot.

The legislation that created Laura’s Law allows each county in the state to decide whether to adopt the provision. Eleven counties have done so, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Placer, San Diego, Mendocino, Fresno, Yolo, Nevada, Orange and San Mateo.

The Board of Supervisors considered adopting Laura’s Law early last year but decided against it on advice of Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. Colfax told the board there was insufficient evidence proving that programs such as Laura’s Law are more effective than non-compulsory treatment approaches already in use.

Supervisors opted instead to put more resources into mental health outreach teams.

Drew said she hoped to urge supervisors to pilot the program for at least three years, but the suggestion was axed by Lucan, who said he did not want the council to impose expectations on the county, which has the authority.

“I think the direction we should be going with this is in conjunction with supervisors and their aides and offices, where we find out exactly what it is they’re proposing and see how we can help them — and offer a letter of support for what they’re proposing,” he said.

Fryday suggested a draft letter to allow council members time to conduct independent research, but the council opted to send the letter before the supervisors took up the issue, expected in Febrary or March.

“I want to thank Councilwoman Drew for bringing this forward,” Councilwoman Pat Eklund said. “Laura’s Law is really important for us because there have been a lot of mentally ill and homeless who have unfortunately lost their lives because they may not have gotten the resources they should have gotten beforehand.”