Laura’s Law Adopted in SF Despite Criticisms

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance known as Laura’s Law today implementing a state law that enables judges to order outpatient psychiatric care or forced anti-psychotic medication for people with a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, jailing or violent behavior.

Laura’s Law was adopted statewide in 2002 and allows judges to force patients with a history of violent or criminal behavior into assisted outpatient programs despite their refusal to accept mental health treatment.

The law was named after Laura Wilcox, a mental health worker in Nevada County who was killed by a patient who had refused treatment.

Critics of the law say it will strip mentally ill people of their rights to accept or refuse medical treatment.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, along with co-sponsors Supervisors Scott Wiener, Katy Tang and London Breed, argue that implementing the law in San Francisco County will begin the process for reducing homelessness, psychiatric hospitalizations and arrests.

Laura’s Law requires the creation of a care team to try to engage individuals referred for assisted outpatient treatment in voluntary treatment prior to imposition of court-ordered treatment.

Farrell said that if the board had not passed the ordinance he planned to ask voters to approve Laura’s Law on the November ballot.

Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco executive director Jennifer Friedenbach, who attended the Board of Supervisors meeting this afternoon, said she was disappointed with the board’s decision.

“Just because they are ill, doesn’t mean they should be dragged into court,” Friedenbach said.

She said she fears the ordinance will further stigmatize those with mental illnesses as well as waste taxpayer dollars on court proceedings.

Farrell said in a statement introducing the ordinance in May, that “Laura’s Law will provide appropriate treatment services for our most vulnerable, reduce hospitalization and incarceration rates, and improve public safety for our residents.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has also said he supports implementing the law and advocated for it in his State of the City address this year.

“The proof is what we see on the streets every day in our city with too many people dealing with serious mental health issues like schizophrenia, often self-medicating with drugs and alcohol,” Lee said in a statement.

“These hard-to-reach individuals oftentimes do not steadily access treatment until they are compelled to do so through the criminal justice system,” he said.

At today’s meeting, Mar said he too worried adoption of the ordinance might lead to violations of civil rights in the community.

The ordinance passed 9-2, with Supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos voting against it.

Hannah Albarazi and Scott Morris, Bay City News

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