Senate Bill 1273 is an effort to clearly define that Proposition 63 funds can be used to assist individuals who are facing a mental health crisis.
When I introduced the bill to the Assembly Health Committee, I mentioned that Sacramento had recently seen what I’m referring to on the nightly news. A burglar was caught on tape pouring powdered sugar on himself (see http://fox40.com/2016/06/27/burglar-caught-on-camera-has-odd-use-for-sugar/). At least the media understood it as a mental health matter.
The OC Register allowed me to provide an update in their Commentary section in the first submittal below. Also see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1255 and SB 1273 — July 25, 2016
July 25, 2016July 25, 2016 John Moorlach.
This same Commentary section also provides a recap of the Supervisorial term limits debate with the second piece below. Should it be two terms or three? I believe three terms is more balanced. But, the current structure allows for more than two terms. All you have to do is take four years off and you can come back for two more terms. If you get elected at a young age, you could be an Orange County Supervisor for some 32 years. It just requires 12 years of breaks. No wonder it was opposed by current and former Supervisors. I would suggest that self-interest would dictate the selection of the County’s current system over a 12-year life time maximum. Do we have another perspective of why some elected officials draw the ire of the general voting public that the columnist may have missed?
For background on this debate, also see MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Sinking Further — July 13, 2016 July 13, 2016July 13, 2016 John Moorlach and MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Likely to be Flat — July 12, 2016 July 12, 2016July 12, 2016 John Moorlach.
Addressing O.C. mental health crisis
By JOHN MOORLACH
As a business major, and then a practicing C.P.A., I never imagined that I would spend much of my time in public office focusing on the mental health crisis we are facing in the U.S. The importance of addressing mental illness hit me front and center five years ago when Kelly Thomas, who was schizophrenic, was killed in an incident with the Fullerton Police Department. Immediately after his death, the Orange County Board of Supervisors was inundated with calls to action by parents of mentally ill children.
In response, I worked with then-state Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, my colleagues on the Orange County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which I chaired, and the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, which I also chaired, on funding and implementing Laura’s Law in Orange County. One result was Senate Bill 585, which allowed for the use of Proposition 63 funds for Laura’s Law. By May of 2014, Orange County became the second county in California to fully implement Laura’s Law.
But Laura’s Law is only a single tool to address the many mental health issues facing Orange County and California. Consequently, my office met with Orange County health care representatives shortly after my special election to the state Senate in 2015 to explore additional ways to help them and others address the ever increasing mental illness crisis. Stemming from that conversation, I authored Senate Bill 1273, to clarify that the Mental Health Services Act, a restricted revenue source, could fund crisis stabilization services for those individuals in mental health crises, in cases of both voluntary and involuntary admittance.
SB1273 addressed an area of ambiguity in the original version of the MHSA, which stated that its funding could be allocated to programs designed to support patients admitted on an involuntary basis, a basis by which many patients are admitted to county emergency rooms.
At present, the county has just 10 mental health evaluation and treatment services beds to service a county of over 3.1 million people. It is a common scenario that when a person in a mental health crisis comes into contact with a first responder, he or she is transported to a local hospital, waiting for hours, even days, in an emergency room that is designed to address medical needs, not psychiatric needs. This has put a significant strain on the 624 emergency room beds in Orange County.
And it’s not just affecting Orange County. This scenario is seen throughout the entire state. It’s a known fact that 1in 5 adults experience serious mental illness annually and that 45 percent of California’s emergency rooms have zero inpatient psychiatric beds. This has become a crisis too large to ignore. And my colleagues in Sacramento have taken notice.
As SB1273 proceeded through the legislative process, it became apparent that there was an intense bipartisan will to focus on this issue. Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the Steinberg Institute, the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the city of Newport Beach, the California Hospital Association and many others showed widespread and outspoken support for SB1273.
As our office viewed this bill as a clarification, and not a substantive change, we inquired with the California Department of Health Care Services to see if there was an administrative solution to this issue. Last week, after months of background research, the DHCS issued Information Notice: 16-034 which stated that MHSA funding could be used to fund crisis stabilization services, an outcome I was hoping to achieve legislatively via SB1273.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett and fellow Supervisor Andrew Do stood by my side in a show of solidarity on this issue during our introductory press conference last fall to announce SB1273. They and their colleagues, in conjunction with the Orange County Health Care Agency, are in a position to make tremendous improvements for those incurring a mental health crisis.
There is an opportunity to provide more beds, including stand-alone facilities, that will provide immediate psychiatric care. Orange County currently has $71 million in MHSA funding available to provide crisis stabilization services. And annual Proposition 63 revenues will now be available to address this growing need. I look forward to watching for the great things that the entire Board of Supervisors will do in assisting in this great area of need. Freeing up emergency room beds is something that will benefit all of us in our moment of need. And providing professional and prompt services to those in a mental health crisis will bring comfort to their immediate family members, who are patiently waiting for such an opportunity in our community.
State Sen. John Moorlach represents the 37th district.
Pitting politicians against the public
SACRAMENTO * When asked about the key local issues of concern to them, most voters will point to roads, housing, schools and jobs. But as a fracas over a proposed Orange County term-limits reform has shown, few things will cause politicians to engage in a more heated debate than a proposal that could potentially disrupt their careers.
Earlier this month, county Supervisor Shawn Nelson proposed the board place an initiative before voters on the November ballot that would change the county’s term limits ordinance. As the law stands, supervisors can only be elected to two four-year terms consecutively. They can, as Supervisor Todd Spitzer has done, go off to the Legislature (or elsewhere) and then get elected again – and serve another two consecutive terms and then again.
Nelson revived an idea from Sen. John Moorlach, who failed to change the law when he was on the board: Allow supervisors to serve an extra term, but that’s it for life. In a June letter to Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Moorlach argued “a hard limit of three terms for any person elected to the Board of Supervisors would allow members to gain institutional knowledge … and stop the future revolving door of termed out politicians going on and off and on again … .”
However, the original version of Nelson’s proposal set off alarm bells. A newly elected person would be limited to three terms. But because of a state law requiring term-limit changes to be future going only, it would have hit the reset button for current supes. All supervisors, Nelson included, would be granted a possible three new terms.
Chaos ensued. “With four days’ notice, mostly over a weekend, termed-out Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson has decided (to) try and pull two of his colleagues into a last-minute power play to considerably extend his time (and their time) in office,” wrote Jon Fleischman, publisher of the GOP-oriented Flashreport.
Nelson said he had no intention of running for another term. “I want to be a judge,” he told me. “I’m like $60,000 pregnant in my campaign (for judge).” He introduced the measure, he said, to solve the “revolving door” problem. Spitzer is the only one to come back so far, but there are other local politicians who might do the same thing, Nelson argued.
Nevertheless, politicians are known to make campaign promises they don’t keep. In response to the criticism, Nelson came up with a new version that would let current supervisors (Nelson included) serve one additional four-year term only and impose the lifetime ban. But it would keep Spitzer, an outspoken opponent of the plan, from running again after his current race.
The county counsel gave Nelson an opinion arguing this revised version will not reset the clock for currently serving supervisors even though it would allow a third term. The opinion was never released to the public, so opponents couldn’t offer their alternative view. Even the revised measure lacked sufficient support on the board, so Nelson withdrew it.
Some local cities, such as Irvine, also have tackled the issue. Republicans backed a measure there in 2014 that helped them finally get rid of Democrat Larry Agran, who has spent a seeming eternity bouncing back and forth between councilman and mayor. In San Joaquin County, supervisors in 2012 put a measure on the ballot that would allow them an extra term. But their ballot description made it sound as if it were limiting their terms. A judge tossed the language, and voters eventually rejected the extension. There’s a disconnect on this issue between voters and politicians regardless of locale and partisan politics.
“The Board of Supervisors today are still being punished (through current term limits) for the sins of the 1994 supervisors that created the bankruptcy,” said Spitzer to the Voice of OC. It was an innocent-enough comment, but many politicians really do view term limits as punishment.
“Ideally, voters would pay close attention to politics, especially at the local level, and vote ‘bad’ public officials out of office,” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University. But incumbents enjoy electoral advantages, and there isn’t always an “attentive public, watchdog press and competitive party system.” Therefore, he adds, “term limits are a necessary evil, which probably explains why they are so popular with voters.”
And it explains, perhaps, why they aren’t so popular with politicians.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998 to 2009. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at sgreenhut.
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