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Hospital safety bill passes Senate

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A bill aimed at stemming the flow of contraband into state hospitals has passed the California Senate.

On May 31, Senate Bill 796, authored by Republican San Luis Obispo Sen. Sam Blakeslee, passed unanimously on the Senate floor. The bill will next go to the Assembly—and eventually to the governor’s desk, if it carries through both houses.

If signed into law, SB 796 would make it a misdemeanor to bring contraband into state mental hospitals, such as Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo County. Violence has steadily increased for several years at ASH, a forensic hospital that houses about 1,200 mentally ill male patients.

“We need to create a therapeutic environment in our state hospitals,” Blakeslee said to fellow senators before the bill was put to a vote.

“SB 796 curbs the violent confrontations by making it a misdemeanor to provide contraband to patients, and helps patients resume rehabilitative programs by discouraging a ‘black market’ from being created with contraband,” his office said in a news release.

The bill is part of an onslaught of legislation directed at state hospitals, brought on recently due to attacks on staff by patients and a staff death at Napa State Hospital last year.

Blakeslee’s SB 794 would increase the penalty for “gassing”—a term that describes when patients use bodily fluids as weapons against staff and other patients—from a misdemeanor to a felony. The bill is still in the committee process.

Napa Sen. Noreen Evans and Assemblyman Michael Allen also have bills aimed at making state hospitals safer for patients and staff.

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