SF moves closer to adopting Laura’s Law to compel some mentally ill into treatment 

After years of debate, San Francisco is on the verge of adopting Laura's Law to compel certain people with mental illnesses to receive treatment.

The state law, also known as the assisted outpatient treatment law, allows court-ordered mental health treatment for individuals with mental illness who have a history of unsuccessful treatment. Those authorized to request a court order include family members and probation officers.

The controversial law has long been opposed by San Francisco's progressive legislators amid concerns over forced treatment and civil rights.

But on Monday, the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee voted to send the proposal to implement Laura's Law locally, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, to the full board for a vote. Notably, progressive Supervisor David Campos, despite raising concerns about the law, supported it after a series of amendments.

"If I had the choice, we wouldn't be talking about this," said Campos, who is in a heated District 17 Assembly race against board colleague David Chiu. "But if we are going to implement Laura's Law, as I think is going to happen here, I would rather do it with the amendments."

Farrell has also proposed placing a Laura's Law measure on the November ballot in the event that the board does not approve it, adding political pressure.

Among the amendments is the creation of a Care Team, a group that would engage with people prior to court-ordered treatment. It would include a family liaison, a peer specialist with a history of mental illness and a forensic psychiatrist, with the aim of steering people toward voluntary treatment.

But the amendments did little to quell long-standing criticism of the proposal.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of San Francisco's Coalition on Homelessness, said that instead of creating a new bureaucratic process, The City should "rebuild our system so it actually has the capacity to respond to diverse needs of San Franciscans with mental illnesses."

"We have a mental health system that is severely in crisis," she said. "We have reduced services dramatically."

The full board is expected to vote on the legislation July 8.

Support for Laura's Law locally includes The City's top law enforcement officials -- District Attorney George Gascón, Police Chief Greg Suhr and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White -- and labor unions representing police and firefighters. Mayor Ed Lee is also in support.

Business interests have also spoken in favor of the initiative.

Jon Ballesteros, vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Travel Association, said that "we hear from our visitors that encountering individuals who are suffering from untreated mental health issues is often the most disturbing aspects of their visit here. Many of these visitors ask why isn't The City doing more to help these individuals?"

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