Backers of an initiative its author says would provide help for homeless individuals and "greatly reduce nuisance behavior on our streets," have received authorization to begin gathering signatures, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Saturday.
What former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, has dubbed the "California Compassionate Intervention Act" would treat crimes like defecating on public transportation or using heroin or methamphetamine in public as "cries for help" and "opportunities to both engage the homeless and return respect for the law on our streets," according to Gatto.
The initiative would create a "Specialized Benefits, Treatment, and Therapy Court" in every county with a population greater than 100,000 to handle those cases. The court would determine whether a person committed those
crimes due to economic need, a drug dependency or mental health issues.
The court would then sentence the defendant to an appropriate treatment plan, connect him or her to existing shelters and safety net programs like general welfare, require the defendant participate in drug rehabilitation and treatment, or place him or her in an appropriate mental health hospital with access to free prescription drugs, Gatto said.
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Once a defendant has completed the court-mandated rehabilitation, the conviction would be automatically expunged, so there is no harm to that person's record.
The initiative "recognizes that many homeless people need help, but that some aspect of encouraging people to get help starts with forcing the issue" and "seeks to return respect for law and order, since many people feel there is a double standard currently for crimes like indecent exposure," Gatto said.
If the initiative were to become law, it would result in increased criminal justice system costs, particularly for courts, substance use disorder treatment, and mental health treatment, which could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to an analysis by the Legislative Analyst's Office.
Some or all of these costs would be funded by a shift of about $860 million in existing state revenues. There would be decreased funding of about $860 million for certain mental health programs. State and local governments
could face ongoing costs to replace this funding, the analysis found.
Valid signatures from 623,212 registered voters -- 5% of the total votes cast for governor in the 2018 general election -- must be submitted by June 16 to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot, Padilla said.