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Civil liberties at issue in latest push for conservatorship reform

Public conservatorship laws may soon expand throughout the state, including in San Francisco, under proposed legislation by state Sen. Scott Wiener.

Wiener said at a press conference on Monday that the current conservatorship laws are not allowing cities to help the homeless population suffering from mental illness:

“The public conservatorship laws are simply too rigid to allow counties to help those who are the greatest distressed on the streets.”

Wiener said those with severe mental health or drug addiction problems that are put under a 72-hour or 14-day hold by The City, sober up, become lucid, and may appear fit to take care of themselves in front of a judge, usually end up back on the streets and back in The City’s hands:

“This is a life or death situation, and it is beyond humane to just sit back and watch as these people die.”

Wiener addressed the civil liberties concerns over Senate Bill 1045, acknowledging that taking a person’s civil liberties and making decisions for them is serious. He said the proposed legislation will include the state’s existing checks and balances system, which include a judicial oversight committee.

Barbara Garcia, director of public health department, in support of SB 1045, said:

“The laws today inhibit us to do the kinds of work we that believe that they need.”

Mayor Mark Farrell and Board of Supervisors President London Breed both support Wiener’s legislation.

Farrell said:

“We have to explore new ways to help these individuals. The status quo is unacceptable.”

Breed will introduce new legislation at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to transfer the responsibility of non-criminal mental health conservatorship cases from the district attorney to the city attorney. Breed said:

“These cases should not be treated as a crime, but as a civil matter. The same way we treat child and family law in The City.”

Breed will also request a drafting of legislation to create a Mental Health Services pilot program involving the Department of Health, Department of Aging and Adult Services, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, The City’s Police Department and BART’s Police Department.

Under the pilot program, the agencies would create a list of “high-risk” individuals suffering from mental illness, substance abuse or chronic homelessness. The agencies would then meet bi-weekly do discuss way to help those individuals on the list.

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