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California and the West

Governor Signs Mental Health Services Bill

Capitol: Davis approves expansion of program for severely ill patients and the use of interns for therapy. But he vetoes proposed rules for nursing homes.


SACRAMENTO — Multiple measures to improve treatment and care of the disabled and mentally ill were signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday, but the Democratic governor also vetoed some bills supported by mental health advocates.

Perhaps most significant was Davis' support of legislation by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that will expand funding for a community mental health outreach program created by lawmakers a year ago.

The program, now operating in Los Angeles, Stanislaus and Sacramento counties, provides treatment to 900 severely mentally ill people. The bill, AB 2034, would allow other counties with independent public health programs to become eligible for funding. It was supported by dozens of health care, poverty and religious organizations and Davis had already placed money for it in the state budget.

"We wanted to take it from a pilot program in a few counties to throughout the state," said Rusty Selix, director of the Mental Health Assn. in California, which sponsored the bill.

Related bills garnering Davis' signature included a measure by Assemblyman Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood), to allow marriage and family therapy interns to provide mental health treatment services under supervision from more experienced superiors. The bill, AB 2161, allows the interns to obtain mental health patients' records.

In addition, Davis signed bills by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) to provide medical equipment under the Medi-Cal program for low-income parents of disabled children, and to allow community mental health centers to tap additional sources of state financing.

But Davis vetoed some bills considered important by advocates for the mentally ill. They included a measure by Steinberg that would have required the state to publish on the Internet citations against nursing homes caring for severely mentally ill people. The bill, AB 1969, also would have required the Department of Mental Health to study ways to improve care of patients in such facilities. In his veto message, Davis said existing law already requires such a study.

Davis refused to sign SB 1451 by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), which would have granted college graduates entering mental health care professions a break on repaying their student loans if they agreed to work in poor areas. California, Davis said in his veto message, has a greater need for primary care physicians and other health care workers in low-income areas.

Davis has also signed the following bills:

Cruise ships--Creates a task force to evaluate the environmental practices of large passenger vessels, such as cruise ships, which reportedly are dropping large amounts of waste along the California coast. AB 2746 by Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance).

Ground water pollution--Legislation focusing on San Gabriel Valley requires local agencies to notify regional water quality boards of surface mining operations that could affect ground water. SB 244 by Sen. Hilda Solis (D-La Puente).

Gun owners--A new law earmarks $125,000 to educate gun owners on firearm laws approved in recent years, and offers them tips on ways to safely store guns. AB 2536 by Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena).

Parking meters--Aimed at saving motorists from unfair parking tickets, legislation allows county authorities to immediately close parking meters found to be inaccurate. Current law requires county authorities to wait 30 days for their owners to fix them. AB 1481 by Assemblyman Brett Granlund (R-Yucaipa).

School construction--In a measure pushed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, school officials will be able to obtain state financing to raze existing schools and replace them with larger multistory schools. AB 801 by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar).

Bills that Davis vetoed included:

Domestic violence--Legislation would have extended the time that a transitional housing program for victims of domestic violence could have provided services from 18 months to 24 months. Davis said in his veto message that the bill, while well intentioned, would cost too much, and indicated he would be open to extending services to some victims. AB 2166 by Cardenas.

Healthy Start--A bill would have slightly expanded state funding for Healthy Start programs, which are designed to increase children's academic performance and bolster access to health care. Davis said in his veto message that expanding the state's role "would create pressure for the state to provide ongoing funding for all Healthy Start programs." SB 179 by Dede Alpert (D-Coronado).

Relocating prosecutors--Legislation would have forced local governments to reimburse prosecutors and public defenders who moved because of threats against them or their families. Davis said in his veto message that weathering such threats is "part of their responsibilities as members of the criminal justice system" and that relocating is no guarantee the threats will stop. AB 2608 by Assemblyman Rod Pacheco (R-Riverside).

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