Orange County Approves Laura's Law

Orange County approves Laura's Law, which applies to those with severe mental illness who've had psychiatric hospitalizations or incarcerations and engaged in violence or attempted violence

A law designed to help protect the severely mentally ill and the public was passed on Tuesday by the Orange County supervisors.

Laura's Law, named after Laura Wilcox, a mental health worker killed by a man who refused psychiatric treatment, would create an outpatient program for homeless people. The law could provide for court-ordered treatment under the state.

Supporters of the law, including some who have struggled with mental health issues, encouraged supervisors to approve the program.

Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas -- the homeless man beaten to death in a struggle with Fullerton police -- told supervisors that a version of Laura's Law may have helped his son, who he said had struggled with schizophrenia.

"The law wouldn't have saved him that night he was killed. We all know that, but my contention is it would have kept him off the streets in the first place," Ron Thomas said.

Critics said it would inhibit civil liberties and would not help those it's intended for anyway.

Michael Sitton, who held up before-and-after pictures of his daughter, said the law would help his daughter who has struggled with mental health problems.

"Everybody who spoke to her tells me she is insane, that she has the right to choose the brain, but it’s a damaged item," Sitton said.

Homeless for 17 years, Dolly Arreguin believes the law could be used to put those deemed "dangerous" into a better situation.

"I think they need to be because they use people," said Arreguin, who is homeless.

Joy Torres has battled her demons since she was 5.

"Out of a hospital sent to the streets only to sleep in a dumpster so you don't get raped or beaten because you're too ill to ask for help," she said.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who brought the issue to the board, noted the suicide of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren's son, Matthew, last year.

"That made national news," Moorlach said. "We cannot allow our jails to be the predominant location for the mentally ill ... This is a real leadership opportunity."

Laura's Law would be targeted at the mentally ill who are considered violent or have been in jail or a hospital.

County officials estimate the program will cost $5.7 million to $6.1 million annually for the treatment of about 120 patients. It is expected to start being enforced in October.

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