Sacramento County needs to embrace Laura's Law, the state statute that allows authorities in certain rare instances to require treatment for mentally ill people who are too sick to understand they need help.
The Sacramento County Mental Health Board issued a report earlier this month that recommended the implementation of the law, named for Laura Wilcox, the college sophomore who was killed by a mentally ill gunman 12 years ago this week.
But as The Bee's Brad Branan reported, the board could not bring itself to adopt the recommendation. That lack of action reflects a lack of compassion for the clearly ill individuals who wander our streets.
As this editorial board has written, California and its counties have bent to well-organized advocates who fear California somehow would return to the dark times decades ago when civil rights for mentally disabled people were an afterthought, and before medication was developed to quiet the voices tormenting the severely mentally ill.
As it is, Nevada County, where Wilcox was killed, and, to a very limited extent Los Angeles County, are the only jurisdictions that have implemented the 2002 law. In Nevada County, caseworkers, attorneys and the presiding judge of Nevada Superior Court work to provide care for a relative handful of severely mentally ill individuals who qualify.
People are able to live in their own homes and avoid jail where so many mentally ill people end up. Nevada County has found that the law saves tax money, and eases the suffering of the individuals and their families.
While rejecting Laura's Law, Sacramento County's mental health advisory board did recommend expanding the mental health court, in which a judge can require willing mentally ill defendants to receive treatment.
Mental health court is an important part of the justice system. But to qualify for mental health court, an individual must have committed a crime. That means that Sacramento County authorities only act after the public has been put at risk.
The California Department of Mental Health, since renamed the Department of State Hospitals, shares in the abdication of responsibility, having issued an ambiguous interpretation of Proposition 63, the landmark 2004 initiative that generates $1 billion-plus a year to care for severely mentally ill people.
The department's interpretation suggests the money cannot be used for assisted outpatient treatment contemplated by Laura's Law. That ambiguity could be solved by legislation. Disability Rights California, a government-funded legal aid group, has seized on the interpretation to threaten to sue counties that use Proposition 63 money to implement assisted outpatient treatment.
New York, certainly a state attuned to civil liberties, has a far broader law than does California, and has provided help to thousands of mentally ill individuals without having to lock them up.
In the wake of the Newtown massacre of 20 children and six educators, Vice President Joe Biden is seeking solutions to gun violence. His task force ought to find ways to provide funding for more assisted outpatient treatment. Sacramento County should not wait for the next horrific event before it acts.