SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to implement Laura’s Law in the country, also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment or AOT.
Laura’s Law was passed in 2002 as AB 1421 and is named after Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old who was shot and killed in Nevada county by a man with untreated severe mental illness.
Dr. Ryan Quist, Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services Director, says the law allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with mental illness.
“The idea is we want treatment to be able to prevent a deterioration that would likely result in a grave disability that would prevent harm to self or others,” said Dr. Quist.
In 2002 the program was opt-in but AB 1976 was signed into law in September of 2020, making the law opt-out. Counties must decide by July 1, 2021, whether to do so and they must give a reason why they are opting out. The program is already in place in neighboring counties like Nevada, Placer, and Yolo.
Opponents say they’re worried about individuals’ civil rights and the potential of forced treatments. Proponents say the law allows caretakers to get the most vulnerable help when it’s needed. The conflict of perspectives was obvious during Tuesday’s public comment period.
“This is an evil plan to take away more freedoms, plain and simple,” said one caller, asking the council to vote no and opt-out.
Other callers encouraged the council to vote yes.
“It begins by building trust with consistent compassionate outreach. It forms a team of wrap-around services such as mental health clinicians, court appointees peers and family members,” said another caller.
Elected county officials like Mayor Daryl Steinberg and Supervisor Sue Frost both spoke out saying while they initially opposed Laura’s Law, they have since come to support it.
“I have come to the belief that Laura’s Law, or assisted outpatient treatment, is an absolutely essential part of the continuum of care,” explained Mayor Steinberg.
“I was one of those people who did have some concerns about Laura’s Law. My main concern was civil rights,” said Frost.
Frost says a constituent with a schizophrenic son explained her story and asked Frost to read the book “Insane Consequences” by DJ Jaffe. Frost says after reading it and doing her own research she changed her views.
“I came to understand that there is a certain population that’s falling through the cracks,” said Frost.