Bill Watch

Bill Update: Brown Signs Foster Youth Voter Bill, and Protections for Sexually Abused Kids

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that aims to encourage foster youth to vote by increasing access to voter registration opportunities.

SB 332, by Senator Henry Stern (D-Agoura Hills), will require the CA Department of Social Services to add voter registration information to the Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman’s website, on a flyer for the state’s Independent Living Program, and on other government websites and materials given to foster youth. The bill will also authorize county social workers to present youth in foster care over the age of 16 with voter registration forms.

On July 21, Brown also signed Stern’s SB 756, which will direct restitution funds for mental health services to children who are victims of sexual abuse.

The bill was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Crime Victims Action Alliance, and received unanimous support from both the CA Senate and Assembly.

“These are victims who go on to suffer from reoccurring nightmares, difficulty sleeping, an inability to maintain a job or complete their education; it takes them a lifetime to recover and we, as a society, should do everything we can to help them,” said Jonathan Hatami, Deputy District Attorney with the Complex Child Abuse Section of the LA County DA’s Office.

In LA County, there are approximately 700 pending cases that may be eligible for mental health restitution under the new law, according to Stern’s office.

“Our kids deserve better. Victims of sexual violence are being denied justice under our current system,” Sen. Stern said. “SB 756 will assist kids in getting the help they deserve. I applaud Governor Brown for signing this important measure into law.”

Brown signed another bill on Monday that aims to protect children and young teens who are victims of sexual abuse from long and traumatizing depositions during civil trials. SB 755, by CA Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would set a three hour time limit for one-on-one questioning of kids under 15 by mental health examiners paid by defendants.

Under current law, there is no specific time limit for these examinations, which can reportedly last six or seven hours. One attorney who represents kids who have been sexually abused reported that a therapist once denied her six-year-old client a bathroom break for more than an hour, causing the boy to urinate himself. “I stopped the exam once I heard yelling through the door,” said Micha Liberty. The attorney, who spoke in support of SB 755 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it should not take more than three hours for a mental health expert to examine a child.

A Noteworthy Bill Still Working Its Way Toward Gov. Brown’s Desk

AB 186 would permit local governments in eight CA counties to establish programs where people could use drugs while supervised by staff members trained to prevent and treat drug overdoses. The staff would also connect people with drug treatment, as well as mental health services, housing assistance, and other services.

Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz are the eight counties included in AB 186.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), would protect people from criminalization while using the facilities.

Supervised drug consumption programs have proven to successfully reduce overdose deaths, drug use on the streets, and transmission of HIV and hepatitis.

“California is blazing a new trail toward a policy on drug addiction and abuse that treats it as the medical issue and public health challenge that it is, and not as a moral failing,” said Eggman. “We are in the midst of an epidemic, and this bill will grant us another tool to fight it – to provide better access to services like treatment and counseling, to better protect public health and safety, and to save lives.”

AB 186, which passed out of the state Assembly and now awaits a decision from the Senate, is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives (CAADPE), the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), and others.

“California is again leading the way, putting science and compassion ahead of fear and outdated stigma about drug use,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Assemblymember Eggman is a national leader for a commonsense approach to drug use that would help prevent thousands of Californians from losing loved ones to drug overdose.”

Photo: Governor Brown signs 2017-2018 budget.

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