(LOS ANGELES)— California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills on Oct. 12 aimed at addressing the state’s mental health and homelessness crises.
In tandem, Senate Bill 326 and Assembly Bill 531 aim to reform and build upon the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) passed by California voters in 2004. SB 326 and AB 531 will be on the ballot next March. If the updated legislation is passed, it will be the first major change to the state’s mental health program since the MHSA.
“Today marks a powerful and important milestone,” Newsom said. “If I’m not coming off as proud, I’m not doing my job.”
The MHSA enacted a 1% income tax increase for Californians making more than a million dollars annually to fund behavioral health services. SB 326, authored by state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), adds treatment for people with substance-use disorders and prioritizes care for people with severe mental illnesses. It also encourages counties to allocate their funds to spend at least 30% on housing.
AB 531 includes a $6.38 billion bond to build over 11,000 additional treatment beds and housing units and almost 27,000 outpatient treatment slots. Another $2.4 billion would be allocated to train over 65,000 healthcare workers over the next five years.
“We’re answering not just the ‘why’ today. We’re answering the ‘what’ and ‘how,’” Newsom said. “We’re moving beyond identifying issues but to a paradigm shift to begin to process being accountable to solve them.”
Newsom was the eleventh in a series of speakers at the bill-signing ceremony. Kicking off the morning was Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass who spoke about homelessness and mental illness in her city.
“I would ask everybody here how they might deal with their mental health and substance abuse vulnerability if you were living in a tent for a month or a week,” Bass said.
Los Angeles Homelessness
There are 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles County. The ceremony took place at the Old General Hospital in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. The hospital closed over a decade ago and has been vacant ever since. If Proposition 1 passes, the hospital will turn into an affordable housing facility with one thousand beds.
“We are going to transform the system, but we’re also going to do something that should have been done 50 years ago,” Bass said. “And that is build the beds and the facilities to make sure that people get the treatment that they need.”
Additional speakers were local and state legislators including Eggman and Mayor of Sacramento Darrell Steinberg who championed MSHA in the early 2000s. Representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Los Angeles and the United States Veterans Initiative also spoke in favor of the bills.
Newsom told reporters after the ceremony that he is “very optimistic” that the bills will be successful. These are two of almost a thousand bills that Governor Newsom has approved or vetoed over the last month.