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Bills to curb state hospital violence move forward

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A variety of bills aimed at quelling violence in California’s state mental hospitals are making their way through the Legislature, for better or worse, capitalizing on increased public scrutiny after one of the first staff deaths at the hands of a patient in years.

Two bills introduced by San Luis Obispo Sen. Sam Blakeslee—Senate Bill 794 and 796—are in the committee process. SB 794 is Blakeslee’s second attempt to increase the penalty for “gassing”—a term used to describe patients using bodily fluids as weapons against staff and other patients at Atascadero State Hospital and other facilities—from a misdemeanor to a felony. Blakeslee introduced a similar bill in his former role as an assemblyman, but it died in committee. As of press time, SB 794 had gone through one hearing with the Senate Public Safety Committee on May 3 and was set for another committee hearing.

Another Blakeslee bill, SB 796, passed the Public Safety Committee and has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations. If passed by the Legislature and governor, the bill would make it a misdemeanor for visitors to smuggle contraband to patients in state hospitals.

Public attention on California state hospitals sparked after Napa State Hospital employee Donna Gross was murdered late last year.

“According to myriad media reports, court filings, and monitor reviews and other studies, serious violence is relatively common, if not rampant, in the state hospitals,” SB 794 states.

Napa Sen. Noreen Evans’ SB 60 would make it more difficult to transfer patients who were committed for acts of “death, rape, or life-threatening injury of another patient or a staff member of the state hospital” to another hospital. That bill was also referred from Public Safety to Appropriations.

Napa Assemblyman Michael Allen is floating Assembly Bill 366, which “provides an expedited process for the involuntary administration of psychotropic medication to patients committed to state hospitals because they were deemed by the court as incompetent to stand trial.”

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