Governor Finally Blocks Passage of AB 1542, Dealing Setback to DA Reisig

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Despite strong opposition from justice reform groups, AB 1542 seemed largely unstoppable after passing the State Assembly on a 65-1 vote and encountering token opposition in the Senate—but the final hurdle proved insurmountable as Governor Newsom exercised his prerogative and vetoed it on Friday.

“I am returning Assembly Bill 1542 without my signature,” Governor Newsom wrote on Friday.

Under 1542, Yolo County would be authorized to “offer a pilot program that would allow individuals struggling with substance use disorders, who have been convicted of qualifying drug-motivated crimes, to be placed in a Secured Residential Treatment Program.”

AB 1542 was authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty in partnership with Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Yolo County Supervisor Gary Sandy. State Senator Bill Dodd is a co-author.

According to a release from the district attorney’s office earlier this year, “Those eligible for the treatment program would include people who have committed drug motivated felonies that, absent this program, would result in them being sentenced to jail or prison. Those who commit misdemeanors, simple drug possession, sex offenses, and strike offenses would not be eligible.”

However, the bill generated strong opposition in the reform community—many concerned that a secure treatment program is simply incarceration by another name.

As it turned out, Governor Newsom shared those concerns.

“I understand the importance of developing programs that can divert individuals away from the criminal justice system, but coerced treatment for substance use disorder is not the answer,” Governor Newsom wrote.

He continued, “While this pilot would give a person the choice between incarceration and treatment, I am concerned that this is a false choice that effectively leads to forced treatment.”

He added, “I am especially concerned about the effects of such treatment, given that evidence has shown coerced treatment hinders participants’ long-term recovery from their substance use disorder.”

The governor’s concerns were echoed by many in the reform community previously.

In July, DA Candidate Cynthia Rodgiuez in a letter published in the Vanguard, wrote, “AB 1542 would force Yolo citizens with drug and alcohol dependencies into a coerced treatment program that is no different from, or more humane than, existing policies that harm a medically vulnerable population.”

From her view, “coerced, incarcerated ‘treatment’” is really no different from current “failed inhumane policy of criminalizaing substance abuse disorder that currently exists.”

She writes, “Best evidence from professionals in medicine and rehabilitation tells us that coerced programs are rarely followed by any increase in sobriety at all, and they will not alter the medical condition of a person who is coerced to attend this program as an “alternative” to incarceration.”

Back in April, Tyler Rinde, with the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, told an Assembly committee that he opposed the bill, arguing “compulsory or coerced SUD treatment is not an effective means of promoting positive clinical outcomes for individuals with substance abuse disorders.”

Rinde added that “offering locked treatment as an alternative to incarceration when the individual would not have otherwise accepted treatment outside of this situation can foster distrust between treatment providers and clients.”

The Human Rights Watch has also been a strong opponent.

In a letter to the Assembly, they wrote, “It runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people.”

“Coerced treatment isn’t proven to be better than voluntary treatment, it doesn’t have better outcomes to threaten people with incarceration or force them into a locked facility,” said Glenn Backes, a social worker and Public Policy Researcher with Drug Policy Alliance told the Vanguard in March.

He also noted that the cost of such a program is much higher than a comparable voluntary program, and he argues we have not invested in an adequate voluntary treatment.

“It is much more cost-effective to invest to create the treatment opportunities, housing opportunities in the community to get people off the streets and to reduce their drug use rather than to threaten to put someone in jail if they don’t do this,” he said. “To put someone in jail is not cost-effective and it’s not science-based.”

But despite these deep misgivings, even strong justice reform advocates in both houses of the legislature approved the bill—often with some trepidation.

It got to the governor’s desk, but the governor was not willing to support the concept—even as a pilot program for Yolo County only.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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25 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    I’ve listened to all the arguments, I listened to the Vanguard seminar, I’ve read all the comments — I still don’t get it.  It’s felons who would be incarcerated anyway, and they have the choice to be in the program or not, and it’s called lack of choice.  I feel like those against this law are pissing on my boots and telling me it’s raining.  Where is the lack of choice here? I feel like DG will answer and it still won’t make any sense to me.

    Just makes me like Newsom all the less.  Is this like a president vetoing a law that 95% of congress passed, it’ll just be overriden — or is a Governor’s veto more powerful?

    1. Bill Marshall

      On shaky ground here, Alan M, but all Newsom did was not sign it… he did not veto it… my understanding is it will go into effect without his signature… gives him ‘political cover’, as he did not ‘endorse it’, nor will he face a likely override of his veto.

      Will never be a ‘profile in courage’…

          1. David Greenwald

            Something that I just learned, I have never seen the legislature override a governor’s veto even though they can. I just read that it hasn’t happened in California since 1979.

        1. Alan Miller

          Something that I just learned, I have never seen the legislature override a governor’s veto even though they can. I just read that it hasn’t happened in California since 1979.

          Interesting.

    2. David Greenwald

      The experts on substance abuse and mental health do not believe this solves the problem of substance abuse. Reisig could have worked with stakeholders on this and come up with a program that everyone would have supported, he decided to go it alone. He almost succeeded, but not quite.

          1. David Greenwald

            On a more serious note, I don’t pretend to understand exactly why the Democrats voted as they did – even the strong backers of justice reform, they went against best practices and experts that they normally are aligned with. This was definitely a strange one. Was it because of their respect for McCarty? Was it because it only impacted Yolo, and thus didn’t care? Weird one.

      1. Alan Miller

        The experts on substance abuse and mental health do not believe this solves the problem of substance abuse.

        “The experts” ?  or some experts?  And ‘solves the problem’.  What exactly is the problem in this definition?  Substance abuse itself? . . .  which isn’t ever going to be ‘solved’.  My question was how having a choice one current doesn’t have is ‘not being given a choice’ ?

        Now, tweaks to the idea to make it better — I’m open to, but the veto didn’t provide that, unless it’s reintroduced in another form . . . but seems not the felons have now no choice but incarceration without treatment option.  And we’ll never get to see if this pilot program worked or not because it won’t happen. How is any of this better?

    3. Joseph Wisgirda

      “It’s felons who would be incarcerated anyway ….”

      Sounds like the arguments I hear for continuing the failed war on drugs. “Well it’s illegal, which makes them criminals, and because they are criminals they deserve to go to jail, Q.E.D. …..”

      “And they have a choice to be in the program ….” Essentially a choice of jail, or a criminal psychiatric ward. Neither are tools that can effectively address the problem, only make it worse.

      Reisig is a fascist and a champion for the failed War On Drugs. He uses his office for personal political gain. Just ask Paul Fullerton. He’s got no business being there since he represents the interests of the republican party who put him there and not the voters of Yolo County.

      Looks like the options he wants to offer are jail or psychiatric jail.

      I’d take regular jail any day. Less meds ( y’know … when the Drug Warriors “treat” drug addiction with Haldol and Thorazine ….. ) and leather restraints and much much less One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest B.S.

      Who knows, they probably have an EST machine buried back there.

      Y’Know, for the uppity patients who claim to know their rights.

  2. Ron Glick

    Each bill passed by the Legislature shall be presented to the Governor. It becomes a statute if it is signed by the Governor. The Governor may veto it by returning it with any objections to the house of origin, which shall enter the objections in the journal and proceed to reconsider it. If a Governor does not sign and does not veto, the bill becomes law.*

    California Constitution, Article IV, §10 (a) and (b)(3)

    1. Ron Glick

      “I am returning Assembly Bill 1542 without my signature,” Governor Newsom wrote on Friday.

      “I understand the importance of developing programs that can divert individuals away from the criminal justice system, but coerced treatment for substance use disorder is not the answer,” Governor Newsom wrote.

       

      Looks like he returned it, unsigned, with a reason. The bill is vetoed.

      1. Alan Miller

        Thanks, RG, best info yet.

        Until someone gives us a different quote from the CA constitution  😐

        I still don’t see how having two choices instead of one (incarceration) is “coerced treatment for substance use disorder”.

        Could not we have tried this?

      2. Bill Marshall

        Looks like he returned it, unsigned, with a reason. The bill is vetoed.

        The Governor may veto it by returning it with any objections to the house of origin, which shall enter the objections in the journal and proceed to reconsider it. If a Governor does not sign and does not veto, the bill becomes law.

        Thanks Ron G.  I remembered the second part and did not pick up on the fact that it was formally returned, with a reason.

        [That’s why I felt ‘on shaky ground’, Alan M…]

  3. Ron Glick

    “This was definitely a strange one. Was it because of their respect for McCarty? Was it because it only impacted Yolo, and thus didn’t care? Weird one.”

    A proposed pilot program in one county, backed by the district’s legislator, sails through the legislature. You find that weird?

    The last time the legislature overrode the Governor was when Jerry Brown vetoed the reinstatement of the death penalty in California in 1979. I guess you were too young to be aware in 79.

     

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