California lawmakers sign off on ballot measure to reform mental health care system
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are casting the final votes on hundreds of bills Thursday before the legislative session ends at midnight.
Approved bills will go to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will have until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign them into law, veto them or let them become law without his signature.
The state Legislature almost never overrides a veto from the governor, no matter what political party is in charge.
Here’s a look at what lawmakers have voted on:
MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
Senators on Thursday signed off on putting two proposals before voters next March that would help transform the state’s mental health system and address the state’s worsening homelessness crisis.
A measure by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin would allow the state to borrow $6.38 billion to build new treatment beds and housing. A proposal by Sen. Susan Eggman would overhaul how counties pay for mental and behavioral health programs. Irwin’s proposal still needs a final vote in the Assembly before it could be placed on the ballot.
Newsom backs both proposals.
Irwin said her bill would bring “the single largest expansion” of the state’s mental health system. The money would help build 10,000 treatment beds and housing, some of which would serve veterans with mental illness or unhealthy drug and alcohol use, and provide up to $1.5 billion in grants for local government and indigenous tribes.
Republican Sen. Brian Jones criticized Irwin’s proposal, saying it’s not fiscally responsible to take on more debts when the state continues to face budget deficits.
The bill by Eggman, which passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate, would restrict the how local governments can use a special tax on millionaires that have been used to fund mental health programs. Under the proposal, two-thirds of revenue from the tax would pay for housing and services for people who are chronically homeless and have severe mental health issues and unhealthy drug and alcohol use.
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR STRIKING WORKERS
Lawmakers on Thursday voted to make striking workers eligible for state unemployment benefits.
If signed by Newsom, the bill would benefit Southern California hotel workers along with Hollywood actors and writers who have been on strike for months.
But it’s not clear if Newsom will sign it. The fund California uses to pay unemployment benefits is insolvent. Business groups have said making more people eligible for benefits will only make it worse.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino said the bill would have a small impact on the fund. Workers would only eligible for benefits if they are on strike for at least two weeks. He said most strikes rarely last that long.
“Let’s remember, when somebody goes on strike, it’s not a romantic thing. It’s hard on them,” Portantino said.
CONSERVATORSHIP LAW REFORM
Lawmakers in the Assembly approved legislation to reform the state’s conservatorship system that could result in more people being detained against their will because of mental illness.
The legislation authored by Eggman, a Democratic senator, would make it easier for authorities to provide care to people with untreated mental illness or addictions to alcohol and drugs, many of whom are homeless. Under current state law, local government said their hands are tied if a person refuses to receive help.
The bill needs a final vote in the Senate before reaching Newsom’s desk. Newsom will decide to sign it into law or veto it. He told The Associated Press this summer he was supportive of Eggman’s direction but didn’t commit to signing the bill.
The changes would take effect in 2026 if the bill becomes law.
The bill would expand the definition of gravely disabled to include people who are unable to provide for their basic needs such as food and shelter due to an untreated mental illness or unhealthy drugs and alcohol use. The legislation is the latest attempt to update California’s 56-year-old law governing mental health conservatorships — an arrangement by which the court appoints someone to make legal decisions for another person.
Opponents of the bill, including disability rights advocates, worry the new bill would result in more people being locked up and deprive them of their fundamental rights.
The legislation is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to reform its mental health system. Last year, Newsom signed a law that created a new court process in which family members and others could ask a judge to come up with a treatment plan for certain people with specific diagnoses, including schizophrenia.
Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this report.