Disability Rights California & Over 50 Disability, Civil Rights, Racial Justice and Housing Advocacy Organizations Urge Governor Newsom to Veto SB 1338

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Disability Rights California & Over 50 Disability, Civil Rights, Racial Justice and Housing Advocacy Organizations Urge Governor Newsom to Veto SB 1338

The Honorable Governor Gavin Newsom
California State Capitol
1021 O Street, Suite 9000
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: SB 1338 (UMBERG) – CARE Court: VETO REQUEST

Dear Governor Newsom,

On behalf of our organizations and our clients and constituents, we respectfully request your veto of SB 1338 due to the many negative consequences that will result from the creation of CARE Court – a new civil court system that will lower the legal standard to order mental health treatment against the wishes of a person with a disability. Collectively, we advance and protect the civil rights of Californians living with disabilities, experiencing houselessness, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color, LGBTQ+ and others who will be disparately impacted by CARE Court and have maintained strong opposition to SB 1338.1 CARE Court will violate bedrock due process, constitutional and disability rights.

Without input from its intended beneficiaries, CARE Court was rolled out by your administration in March 2022. As former United States Senator Tom Harkin, co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, remarked: “Since the CARE Court proposal is designed to improve the lives of people with significant mental health disabilities, it is critically important that this population be engaged, respected and listened to on the issue of how best to help them.”2 Throughout this legislative cycle, neither the authors nor your administration have listened to or addressed the mounting concerns and criticism from impacted people.3, 4,5

We understand that you are trying to address the growing homelessness and mental health crises in California, but CARE Court is not the solution. In fact, CARE Court is likely to do real harm to the populations you are trying to help. By targeting people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, studies show Black, Indigenous and People of Color will be disproportionately affected by this new program.6,7,8 A court system mandated to oversee the mental health treatment of people will be traumatizing and will set back decades of recovery tools designed to help those most marginalized.

CARE Court should not be an end run around reform to the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS). Disability Rights California has offered necessary recommendations for LPS improvement to better address the needs of people with mental health disabilities.9

Notably, proponents of CARE Court rely on false premises – that people are rejecting offers of housing; that access to behavioral health services based on one evaluation will solve a person’s mental health disabilities; and, that a civil court is the least restrictive setting. In reality, low-cost housing stock is at a near record low and affordable housing options have years-long waitlists of people desperate for a home. Recovery takes more than clinical appointments with court dates and in fact, recovery is primarily found to be successful when accessible, affordable housing is combined with community-based treatment settings, surrounded by peers, and provided through voluntary, accessible means. When a person is faced with defending their case before a judge without agency over their own care, the least restrictive setting is not court. Finally, CARE Court will contribute to the re-institutionalization of people with disabilities, repeating a horrific history of civil rights abuses.

CARE Court is a costly mistake, diverting resources from people who need housing and services. This court system is likely to cost in excess of billions of dollars as estimated by the Assembly Appropriations Committee recognizing the figures offered by the counties in California. This state mandate will fail to deliver on what it promises to accomplish and will divert resources from other urgently needed programs.

As well intentioned as CARE Court may be, it will inevitably harm and stigmatize people with mental health disabilities, especially people within communities of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. CARE Court is exploitative of poor people who need mental health care and will create a chilling effect preventing people from seeking treatment and care. This bill runs contrary to the positive direction the Legislature had taken in the last few years by funding more community-based mental health care treatment centers, by increasing housing funds for extremely low-income Californians, and by decreasing the presence of law enforcement and court involvement in mental health crises. For these reasons, we oppose SB 1338 and respectfully urge you to veto the bill.

Logos of the organizations that signed the letter.

Sincerely,

Andrew J. Imparato
Executive Director
Disability Rights California

Glenn Backes, MSW, MPH
Policy Consultant
American Civil Liberties Union California Action

Rebecca Gonzales
Director of Government Relations and Political Affairs
National Association of Social Workers - CA

Cynthia Castillo
Policy Advocate
Western Center on Law and Poverty

Andrea Wagner
Interim Executive Director
California Association of Mental Peer-Run Organizations (CAMHPRO)

Claudia Center
Legal Director
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)

Mari Castaldi
Senior Legislative Advocate
Housing California

Sharon L. Rapport
Director, California State Policy
Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH)

Paul Boden
Executive Director
Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)

Ira Burnim
Legal Director
Bazelon Center

Tony Chicotel
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform

Kim Lewis
Managing Attorney
National Health Law Project

Michael Bien, Partner
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Asha Albuquerque
Lead Attorney
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley

Sasha Ellis
Senior Attorney
Bay Area Legal Aid

Frank SmithWaters
Director
The SmithWaters Group

Karen Hernández
Lead Organizer
People’s Budget Orange County

David Duran
Co-Founder
Housing is a Human Right Orange County (HHROC) & People’s Homeless Task Force-OC

Stacie Hiramoto, MSW
Director
Racial & Ethnic Mental Health Disparities Coalition (REMHDCO)

Eric Tars
Legal Director
National Homelessness Law Center

Kelechi Ubozoh
(Individual)

David Mauroff
CEO
San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project

Bob Erlenbusch
Executive Director
Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness

Amanda Andere
CEO
Funders Together to End Homelessness

Larry Dodson
Pastor
New Life Ministries of Tulare County

Paula Lomazzi
Executive Director
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee

Stuart Seaborn
Managing Director, Litigation
Disability Rights Advocates

Maribel Nunez
Executive Director
Inland Equity Partnership

Melissa A. Morris
Staff Attorney
Public Interest Law Project

Pavithra Menon
Supervising Attorney
Mental Health Advocacy Services (MHAS)

Heidi L. Strunk
President and CEO
Mental Health America of California

Katherine Pérez
Director
The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation

Jael Barnes
Pretrial Justice Organizer
Decarcerate Sacramento

Kara Chien
Managing Attorney, Mental Health Unit
San Francisco Public Defender's Office

Jordan Kough
Executive Director
Disability Rights Legal Center

Yasmin Peled
Senior Policy Advocate
Justice in Aging

Emily Harris
Policy Director
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Paul Simmons
Executive Director
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – CA

Jessica Lehman
Executive Director
Senior & Disability Action

Matt Gallagher
Assistant Director
Cal Voices

Khalil Ferguson, Secretary
Tak Allen, Chair
California Democratic Party Black Caucus Legislative Committee

Andrea Rivera
Senior Legislative Advocate
California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN)

Arnold Sowell, Jr.
Executive Director
NextGen California

Sally Zinman
Long Time Consumer/Client/Survivor Advocate

Dan Okenfuss
Public Policy Manager
California Foundation for Independent Living Centers

Rhonda Smith
Executive Director
California Black Health Network

Catherine A. Rodman, Esq.
Director
Affordable Housing Advocates

Camilo Pérez-Bustillo
Executive Director
National Lawyers’ Guild – San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Mehrsa Imani 
Director of Advocacy and Leadership
San Diego Housing Federation

Monique Berlanga
Executive Director
Centro Legal de la Raza

Courtney Poole
Showing Up for Racial Justice Sacramento

Vera Calloway
Founder
Calloway Holistic Peer Concepts

cc:

Honorable Toni Atkins, President pro Tempore, California State Senate
Honorable Anthony Rendon, Speaker, California State Assembly
Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary, California Health & Human Services Agency
Stephanie Welch, Deputy Secretary of Behavioral Health, California Health & Human Services Agency
Tam Ma, Deputy Legislative Secretary, Office of Governor Newsom
Jessica Devencenzi, Office of Governor Newsom
Christy Bouma, Legislative Affairs Secretary, Office of Governor Newsom
Kim McCoy Wade, Senior Advisor on Aging, Disability, and Alzheimer's , Office of Governor Newsom
Corrin Buchanan, Deputy Secretary for Policy and Strategic Planning, California Health & Human Services Agency