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Newsom signs CA mental health overhaul

This story appeared on Calmatters

Physician assistant Brett Feldman speaks with a man in his encampment along Skid Row on Nov. 18, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

World Mental Health Day started bright and early Tuesday with Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing he has signed a key part of his overhaul of California’s mental health policy that will loosen rules about who is eligible for involuntary treatment.

As CalMatters’ health reporter Jocelyn Wiener explains, under the new law, the legal definition of who can be deemed “gravely disabled” will be expanded to take into consideration whether a person fails to provide for their own medical care or personal safety. In addition to mental illness, severe substance use disorder and chronic alcoholism would be factors. The move is a significant departure from decades-long civil liberties policies that protected Californians with mental illness from being confined against their will.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “The mental health crisis affects us all, and people who need the most help have been too often overlooked. We are working to ensure no one falls through the cracks, and that people get the help they need and the respect they deserve.”

The legislation is part of a series of actions the governor has been carrying out to address the state’s dual mental health and homelessness crises. Earlier this month, the first seven counties kicked off their CARE Courts program, an initiative Newsom championed to treat people with untreated schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. The governor is also expected to sign legislation for a March ballot measure to create housing for homeless people with mental illnesses.

But some critics of the new law argue that it is a “huge erosion of civil rights,” and raise concerns that more people will be funneled involuntarily into treatment facilities. They’re also skeptical that it will effectively address California’s homelessness crisis.

  • Kelechi Ubozoh, mental health advocate: “We’re never having the right conversation. It is a conversation around poverty. We’re still saying, ‘Let’s blame it on mental health and the mental health system.’”

For more on the new law, read Jocelyn’s story. Later Tuesday, Newsom announced more grants to build “small homes” for homeless individuals and signed a handful of bills to address homelessness.

 

CalMatters is tracking Newsom’s decisions on bills before his Saturday deadline. He is signing other bills, including a long list Tuesday:

  • Fentanyl crisis: A handful of fentanyl-related bills that require stadiums to provide the overdose-reversing drug naloxone; mandate California colleges to provide fentanyl test strips; and increase prison time for fentanyl dealers.
  • Missing black youth: A bill creating an “Ebony Alert” for missing Black children and young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years old.

And he vetoed others:

  • Campaign funds: A bill to allow political candidates to use campaign funds for security expenses, arguing that the measure could lead to “unintended consequences” because it lacked specifics.
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1
Garvey slides into U.S. Senate race

Steve Garvey attends the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium on June 2, 2023.
Steve Garvey attends a baseball game at Dodger Stadium on June 2, 2023. Photo by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

While California’s political world waits for Sen. Laphonza Butler’s decision on running next year, someone else slid Tuesday into the U.S. Senate race: Steve Garvey, former L.A. Dodgers great and Republican.

If the campaign was missing a little celebrity star-power, Garvey might fit the bill. He played for the Dodgers from 1969 to 1982 (including a National League MVP in 1974 and a World Series title in 1981), and then for the San Diego Padres from 1983 to 1987. 

  • Garvey, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “I never played for Democrats or Republicans or independents. I played for all the fans, and I’m running for all the people…. There are a lot of people who know who I am. And now for the next five months, I’ll be reigniting that relationship we have.”

And at least according to a poll released last month, he immediately catches up, or even jumps slightly ahead, of the two Republicans already in the race. Garvey was the choice of 7% of likely voters surveyed, while James Bradley also came in at 7% and Eric Early at 5%, according to the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey.

All the Republicans, and Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, are well behind the two leaders: Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, both Democrats. They came in at 20% and 17%, respectively, and their numbers didn’t change whether Garvey was in the race or not. 

But the poll found 32% of likely voters undecided, and if Butler decides to run, it would further scramble the campaign.  

Reminder: All the candidates are competing to finish either first or second in the March 5  primary. The top two, regardless of party, move on to the November general election. And because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death, there will be simultaneous elections to determine who serves out the final two months of her term. 

While Democrats hold a huge majority among California’s registered voters, if the three — or four — Democratic candidates divide the vote and if one of the Republicans is able to unify GOP voters, he could make it into the top two. 

Garvey says he voted for Donald Trump twice for president. And it was crystal clear from the California Republican Party convention last month that Trump is in control

Garvey is emphasizing crime, education and homelessness on his new campaign website. But will he offer policy solutions, not just sound bites?

2
A piecemeal approach to redistricting

RedistrictingPartners, the consulting firm hired to help the Long Beach Independent Redistricting Commission, share insights on the newly drawn political lines in Long Beach, during a commission meeting held at city hall, on Oct. 20, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
The consulting firm Redistricting Partners presents to the Long Beach Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 20, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Looking ahead to future elections, many more local politicians in California could be deciding their own election districts unless the Legislature passes bills again and Gov. Newsom changes his mind. 

CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal writes that Newsom vetoed the most sweeping bill for independent redistricting commissions. He cited budget concerns, but supporters are perplexed because costs wouldn’t register until closer to the 2030 Census, which kicks off the next round of redistricting. 

  • Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director for Common Cause, in a statement: “We’re deeply confused and frustrated, why the governor would choose to veto a proven democracy reform that provided California an opportunity to not just eliminate gerrymandering in the state but also lead the nation in pro-democracy reform.”

The veto was backed, however, by the California State Association of Counties, Rural County Representatives of California and Urban Counties of California, which raised concerns about their costs.

The governor did sign Assembly Bill 764, also sponsored by Common Cause, that seeks to address ambiguities in current redistricting laws regardless of who does the mapping. He also signed Senate Bill 314 that establishes a citizens redistricting commission for the Sacramento County board of supervisors and AB 34 that creates a similar commission in Orange County. 

The two counties join a handful of others that have independent redistricting panels. The most populous county, Los Angeles, does not. And Newsom vetoed another bill that would have required an independent panel in L.A. and other charter cities. For more details, read Sameea’s story.

3
CA migrants’ different experiences

Aura Silva Vergara at the home where she stays in Memphis, Tenn. on Oct. 2, 2023.
Aura Silva outside the apartment she shares with three other migrants in Memphis, Tennessee, on Oct. 2, 2023. Photo by Andrea Morales for CalMatters

Over the summer, Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas sent asylum-seeking migrants from South America to California without prior notice — generating headlines for the political fracas it flamed between Gov. Newsom and the two Republicans.

But what happened to the migrants themselves? 

As Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Justo Robles of CalMatters’ California Divide team explain, some were met with an under-resourced local support system in Sacramento, while others were swiftly integrated into the community in Los Angeles. 

This disparity is due, in part, to money. In June, a coalition of religious organizations, known as Sacramento Area Congregations Together, quickly moved to assist with the migrants’ immediate needs. It also asked the county for nearly $194,000 to cover the cost of 17 hotel rooms for four months, and the salaries of a case manager and staff. But Sacramento County ultimately did not release the money.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, officials began preparing in the spring for a potential increase in migrants due to the impending end of a pandemic health rule that allowed border officials to turn away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. The county received millions of dollars from the state, including a $1.3 million contract with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, and $2 million in the state budget for nonprofits providing aid to newly arriving migrants. 

For Aura Silva, one of the migrants who found herself in Sacramento, moving to Memphis, Tennessee ended up being the only way that she could support herself and her family back in Colombia. 

  • Silva: “I didn’t want to leave Sacramento. I loved it. But I came to this country to work and give my daughter a better education. That was a promise I will keep.”

For more about the different experiences for migrants in Sacramento and Los Angeles, read Alejandra and Justo’s story.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Newsom cites economic uncertainty in his vetoes as the state awaits October tax returns.

Struggling community hospitals across California can’t afford the proposed $25 minimum wage for health care workers, writes Craig S. Castro, president and CEO of Community Health System.

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