Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County Supervisors to Decide Opting Into ‘Laura's Law'

The California law would compel county residents into health treatment

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Santa Clara County supervisors will consider Tuesday whether to opt into a state law that could mandate treatment for those with severe mental illness.

The program, also known as Laura's Law, would compel residents into health treatment in some cases. While some see it as a tool to help the county's most vulnerable, others see it as a violation of their rights.

"These are the most vulnerable in our society and they are a danger to themselves and others, and we are just trying to protect them," said Scott Knies, San Jose Downtown Association executive director.

Knies on Monday spoke out in favor of supervisors implementing Laura's Law, also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment, or AOT.

If supervisors decide to opt in, court judges would have the power to compel residents into mental health treatment -- if they fail to stick to voluntary programs and have landed in jail or the hospital multiple times as a result of mental illness.

"One of the challenges is that often the mentally ill cannot advocate for themselves to get treatment or stay in treatment," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who supports the county opting in. "Laura's Law is one of the many tools we have."

But homeless advocate Robert Aguirre said Laura's Law targets the homeless and tramples on people's freedom to decide their own care.

"If you take a person's choice to decide whether to receive care of not, you were taking away the person's rights," Aguirre said.

In a letter to Santa Clara County supervisors, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley also voiced opposition to AOT.

"Forcing people into a program without consideration to their wants impacts their civil rights and liberties," the foundation wrote.

A county staff report said Laura's Law would help about 50 people a year and cost the county more than $12 million per fiscal year to implement.

So far, 21 of California's 58 counties have opted into the program, including San Mateo County.

Supervisors must decide to opt in or out of the program by the end of June.

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