Santa Clara County supervisors will examine on Tuesday whether to opt for state law that could mandate treatment for people with severe mental illness.
The program, also known as Laura’s Law, is said to require residents to undergo medical treatment in some cases. While some see it as a tool to help the most vulnerable in the county, others see it as a violation of their rights.
“They are the most vulnerable in our society and they are a danger to themselves and to others, and we are just trying to protect them,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association.
Knies spoke out on Monday in favor of supervisors implementing Laura’s Law, also known as assisted outpatient treatment, or AOT.
If supervisors decide to participate, court judges would have the power to compel residents to undergo mental health treatment – if they do not adhere to voluntary programs and have landed several times in prison or hospital due to mental illness.
“One of the challenges is that often mentally ill people cannot stand up for themselves to get treatment or stay in treatment,” said Cindy Chavez, supervisor of Santa Clara County, which supports the county. “Laura’s Law is one of the many tools we have.”
But homeless advocate Robert Aguirre said Laura’s law targets the homeless and violates people’s freedom to decide on their own care.
“If you take a person’s choice to decide not to receive care, you take away their rights,” Aguirre said.
In a letter to Santa Clara County supervisors, the Silicon Valley Law Foundation also expressed its opposition to AOT.
“Forcing people to participate in a program regardless of their wishes has an impact on their civil rights and freedoms,” the foundation wrote.
A report from county staff said Laura’s Law would help around 50 people per year and cost the county more than $ 12 million per fiscal year to implement.
So far, 21 of California’s 58 counties have opted for the program, including San Mateo County.
Supervisors must decide whether or not to participate in the program before the end of June.