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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria testifies in favor of conservatorship reform

San Diego Mayor and former state Assemblyman Todd Gloria returned to Sacramento on Tuesday to urge a state committee to pass a bill that could result in more people entering conservatorship.

Appearing before the Assembly Health Committee, Gloria asked members to support Senate Bill 1416, one of eight bills proposed by Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) about mental health. That bill and the others were approved unanimously by the committee.

The bill would broaden the definition of “gravely disabled” in the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, a California law that regulates the involuntary commitment to mental health institutions. Under the act, a person can be committed if found to be gravely ill, a condition defined as being unable to find food, clothing or housing.

Under SB 1416, gravely disabled would be defined as a mental health disorder that includes the inability to provide for the basic personal needs for medical care in addition to being unable to provide for food, clothing, and shelter.

While the change appears slight, it could be significant because many advocates for the change say the current definition prevents severely mentally ill homeless people from being placed into conservatorship or involuntarily held because they still can feed and cloth themselves.

“Last year in my city, our first responders spent 400 service hours every day responding to people with behavioral health emergencies,” Gloria told committee members. “It’s time that we face the painful but obvious truth that our behavioral system is broken, and now is the time to fix it.”

Representatives from Cal Voices and Disabilities Rights California spoke against the bill, which they said was unneeded and would deprive people of their basic autonomy.

Among the Assembly members speaking in favor of the bill was Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego), who served on the San Diego City Council and was the homeless commissioner.

Maienschein said housing is needed to solve homelessness, but changes to the legal system also have to be made.

Eggman also spoke about the need for the bill, which she said would have a greater impact that past attempts at reform.

“We have tried and failed so many times,” she said.

Eggman quoted a member of a member of a street medical team who described homeless people with mental conditions as “dying with their rights on.”

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