Newsom Signs Far-Reaching, Controversial Mental Health Bill Into Law

CARE Court will allow civil proceedings against California’s most vulnerable with severe mental illnesses, followed by two years of court-monitored services

In a far-reaching move for mental health treatment in California, Gavin Newsom signed the proposal for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court into law Wednesday.

“This is a new paradigm. It’s a new approach,” Newsom, flanked by local officials and families, said before the signing, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This has been architected completely differently than anything you’ve seen in the state of California, arguably in the last century.”

CARE Courts would establish civil courts in every California county which conduct civil proceedings against people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or psychotic disorders who also often need housing to be initiated by individuals such as family members, first responders, outreach workers, and others. All in all, it would result in up to two years of court-monitored services for the individual.

The up to two-year plan would provide the patient with a clinical team, lawyer, and “volunteer supporter” to help the individual make decisions “with some level of autonomy,” reports the Times.

About 7,000 to 12,000 of California’s most vulnerable residents—the homeless, for examples—will qualify for CARE Court.

Critics say that because the plan would require all counties in the state to create a mental health branch in civil court dedicated to assisting people who are in need of help but won’t consent to services on their own, essentially forcing them to accept care.

However, the governor has been cautious to characterize CARE Court as voluntary, saying that those who qualify can “still technically refuse to participate.”

Despite Newsom’s assurances, the proposal is meeting stiff opposition from civil rights and disability rights groups.

In August, a damning open letter to Governor Newsom from dozens of major California activist groups and individuals argued that the proposal would not alleviate the homeless problem, as Newsom has suggested, but would “lead to institutionalization and criminalization of those already isolated in the streets and increase stigma, discrimination.”

Ultimately, the letter stated that “the CARE Court bill would create a new civil court system with mechanisms to force involuntary medical treatment and loss of autonomy and liberty in addition to the collective loss of other human and civil rights.”

Legal challenges to the new law are expected.

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