California Legislature Passes Bills to Overhaul Behavioral Health System

Sept. 15, 2023
Bills would dedicate billions of dollars to new behavioral health housing and provide funding for more behavioral health infrastructure

The California Legislature passed two bills that seek to modernize the state’s behavioral health system and address the homelessness crisis. The bills would dedicate billions of dollars to new behavioral health housing, create new accountability and transparency, and provide funding for key behavioral health infrastructure and workforce across the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct.14 to take action on the legislation. Once signed by the governor, this modernization of the state’s mental health services system and accompanying bond will head to Californians voters for approval. Senate Bill 326 and Assembly Bill 531 will appear jointly on the March 2024 ballot as Proposition 1.

“I was deeply moved by the personal stories that so many legislators have shared, showing how many of us have been touched by the mental health crisis,” said Newsom in a statement. “These measures represent a key part of the solution to our homelessness crisis, and improving mental health for kids and families. Now, it will be up to voters to ratify the most significant changes to California’s mental health system in more than 50 years.”

According to its proponents, Senate Bill 326 modernizes the Mental Health Services Act to address today’s behavioral health system and demand for services. These reforms expand services to include treatment for those with substance use disorders, prioritize care for those with the most serious mental illness, provide ongoing resources for housing and workforce, and continue investments in prevention, early intervention, and innovative pilot programs.

Assembly Bill 531 includes a $6.38 billion general obligation bond to build 10,000 new treatment beds and supportive housing units to help serve more than 100,000 people annually. This investment would be the single largest expansion of California’s behavioral health treatment and residential settings in the state’s history – creating new, dedicated housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness who have behavioral health needs, with a dedicated investment to serve veterans. The bill says these settings will provide Californians experiencing behavioral health conditions a place to stay while safely stabilizing, healing, and receiving ongoing support. Included in the bond is a $1 billion set aside specifically for veterans’ housing.

The final votes come after months of negotiations and concessions with stakeholders across the state: people and families with lived experience, healthcare professionals, children and youth groups, veterans organizations, schools and school administrators, businesses, labor leaders, mental health and equity advocates, first responders, and local officials.

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