Steinberg Institute


In just more than four years of operation, the Steinberg Institute has had an outsized impact on California’s legislative agenda.  Key to our mission is inspiring legislative champions – and 2018 marked another leap forward, with introduction of more than two dozen bills dedicated to improving mental health care in California.

In recent legislative sessions, we have pushed for – and won – decisive gains in the areas of prevention and early intervention in mental illness; housing and treatment for homeless people living with mental illness; crisis support services; veterans support services; law enforcement training; suicide prevention; and college mental health services. We have done so with bipartisan support, reaching across party lines to grow awareness of brain health issues; and through thousands of calls and meetings with elected officials, agency heads, advocacy groups, business leaders and research groups, as we educate, advocate, and build our network of supporters.

We are inspired by the strong cadre of legislative champions who have identified brain health as a priority in 2018.  Our sponsored legislative package reflects our continued commitment to scaling up effective prevention and early intervention programs for young people in the early stages of mental illness, so access to care is not limited by region; promoting an integrated system of health care that treats both care for the brain and care for the body with sweep and urgency; strategically growing our mental health workforce; establishing standards for addressing mental health in the workplace; and ensuring a coordinated mental health response in the wake of major traumas and disasters.


Our Priority Legislation For 2018


Scaling Up Best Practices for Early Intervention  

SB 1004 marks a major step in our efforts to standardize and scale up high-quality Prevention and Early Intervention programs funded by the Mental Health Services Act, ensuring access to quality care across the state. It establishes a statewide strategy for PEI spending so that counties across California are targeting their funds on areas of proven need and employing best practices in their treatment models. In addition, it ensures counties get timely guidance and technical
assistance from the state Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

The legislation is authored by Senators Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, and co-authored by a diverse array of legislators: Senator Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada; and Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno; David Chiu, D-San Francisco; Susan Eggman, D-Stockton; and Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley.

Specifically, SB 1004 requires counties to spend their PEI funds on five overarching categories:

  1. Childhood trauma prevention and early intervention to deal with the early origins of mental health needs.
  2. Early psychosis and mood disorder detection and intervention, and mood disorder and suicide prevention programming that occurs across the life span.
  3. Youth outreach and engagement strategies that target secondary school and transition age youth, with a priority on partnership with college mental health programs.
  4. Culturally competent and linguistically appropriate prevention and intervention.
  5. Strategies targeting the mental health needs of older adults.

Why these areas? Fewer than half of the counties in California offer the evidence-based models of early psychosis care that are proven most effective in intervening during the early stages of serious mental illness. California’s suicide rate, like the nation’s, remains stubbornly high. And the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) shows the importance of early intervention to lessen the impacts of trauma and violence on a young person’s mental health.

The bill also builds in flexibility, allowing counties to use their PEI funds for other priorities, if they can make the case for a strong local need.

The Governor’s budget projects $2.2 billion in MHSA revenue for the 2018-19 fiscal year. More than $400 million of these funds are set aside for PEI, but historically there has been a marked and inequitable disparity across the state as to how each county utilizes these funds.  SB 1004 creates a more unified vision for services and advances accountability, requiring the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission to create a framework for services and metrics for tracking program outcomes across the state.

Status: Signed into law on Sept. 27, 2018  

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

In any given year, one in four Californians endures a mental health crisis, and yet mental health remains an uncomfortable and often unaddressed issue in many workplace settings. Research tells us that lack of attention comes at great cost for both employers and employees: Mental health issues are the single most expensive category of health costs for many employers, across all industries and sizes. The loss of employee productivity due to depression alone is estimated to cost U.S. companies as much as $44 billion per year.

We co-sponsored SB 1113 in partnership with Senator Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and the state Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission to make California the first state in the nation to establish voluntary mental health standards for the workplace. This landmark legislation marks a bold effort to combat the stigma that still shrouds mental health in our nation and ensure mental illness is addressed with the same respect and urgency as physical illness in the workplace.

For years, employers have seen the wisdom of providing their employees with gym memberships, exercise space and nutritional snacks, having been schooled in the clear cost benefits of supporting physical well-being. SB 1113 brings that same level of attention to supporting employee mental health.

SB 1113 authorizes the state’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission to work with private and public employers, employee groups, consumers and mental health experts to create voluntary guidelines to combat stigma and normalize discussion of mental health in the workplace. It will tap into existing work that other organizations and nations have already developed, including widely respected guidelines in place in Canada.

Status: Signed into law on Sept. 11, 2018  

Growing Our Mental Health Workforce

The shortage of psychiatrists in the United States has reached crisis levels. In its 2017 report outlining the challenges, the National Council for Behavioral Health projected demand for psychiatry would outstrip services by 25 percent in 2025.  The dynamic is evident in California where county mental health departments labor, often in vain, to fill psychiatrist vacancies. According to state records, 23 of California’s 58 counties have fewer than one psychiatrist per 10,000 residents, while six counties have no psychiatrists at all.

Part of the answer lies in tackling the burden of debt that so many students shoulder as they pursue an advanced medical degree. With the California Psychiatric Association, we co-sponsored AB 2018, by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, to amend statute to allow psychiatric trainees who meet necessary criteria to be eligible for loan repayment during their training.  Currently, the state’s primary loan incentive program aimed at enticing students to work in community psychiatry commences loan repayment only after a student has completed residency training and is employed in a community mental health setting. With early loan repayment as an incentive, we can increase the capacity of specialized training programs.

Status: Held in Senate Appropriations. 

In addition, we are supporting efforts to diversify and elevate other key sectors of the mental health workforce. SB 906, authored jointly by Senators Jim Beall, D-Santa Clara, and Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, establishes a peer certification process in California.  A peer provider is a person who draws on lived experience with mental illness and/or substance use disorder and recovery, bolstered by specialized training, to deliver valuable support services in a treatment setting. Across the nation, peer support programs have emerged as an evidence-based practice with proven benefits to both peers and the clients they assist, including reduced hospitalizations, alleviation of depression and enhanced self-advocacy. A peer support program also creates a career ladder so that consumers and family members working in mental health care have the opportunity to fully contribute, translating their experience into meaningful employment.  Across California, peer providers are already utilized in many settings. However, there has been no statewide standard of practice, consistent curriculum, training standards, supervision standards, or certification protocol.  SB 906 will create those standards.

Status: Passed by the Legislature. Vetoed by Gov. Brown on Sept. 29, 2018.  We will continue to pursue legislation in 2019. 

A Dramatic Response to a Public Health Crisis

It is no exaggeration to say California’s homeless problem has escalated to a public health crisis. As a state, we hold 25 percent of the nation’s homeless. More than 134,000 people are subsisting on our streets, huddled in alleys and doorways, bushes and riverbanks, finding food, warmth and companionship as they can. Research tells us as many as a third of them are suffering with untreated mental illness. And the misery in no way ends there.

The weight of this crisis is straining our neighborhoods, our businesses, our law enforcement officers and our community conscience. It demands a dramatic, coordinated response from our cities and our state.

In 2016, the Legislature passed the No Place Like Home Act, legislation that would leverage a small portion of existing state mental health funds to generate  $2 billion to build supportive housing linked to treatment for people with serious mental illness who are homeless or at grave risk of becoming homeless. The bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, but its implementation was indefinitely delayed by legal disputes.

In 2018, the Legislature placed Proposition 2 on the November ballot to bring an end to the legal maneuvering by giving voters the opportunity to certify that No Place Like Home furthers the purposes of the Mental Health Services Act. Proposition 2 was overwhelmingly approved by state voters, garnering more “yes” votes than any other proposition on the November ballot.  The state is in the process of rolling out No Place Like Home, and funding will begin flowing to counties for eligible supportive housing projects in early 2019.

Status: Proposition 2 was approved by California voters in November 2018. 

Expanding the Definition of “Gravely Disabled”

Too often family members have watched a loved one die on the streets because a brain illness has clouded that person’s ability to understand he or she is in urgent need of medical care. And the state law that defines when people can be taken into custody and compelled to take treatment remains rigidly narrow.

Fifty-one years after its passage, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act is in dire need of an update. As written, it allows authorities to take people into custody and compel treatment only within a very limited set of circumstances: if that person is judged a danger to himself or others; or is deemed “gravely disabled,” which the law defines as unable to provide for the basic human needs of food, clothing or shelter. It is a bar that has proven too high and subjective.

AB 1971, by Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Phillip Chen, R-Diamond Bar, offers a targeted fix. The measure, which we co-sponsored with Los Angeles County, would expand the definition of “grave disability” to include people who are unable to seek urgently needed medical treatment because of their mental illness.

We understand that this legislation is just one piece of a broader network of community care needed for long-term recovery.  We are working with our partners to promote parallel efforts to help counties expand the intensive, wrap-around services and supportive housing models that have proven effective.

Status: Pulled by the authors for further development

Toppling Barriers To Same-Day Billing

SB 1125, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would dismantle a regulatory barrier that keeps some of California’s poorest and most vulnerable residents from being able to access services for both mental health and physical health on the same day.

For years now, California has lagged behind other states – and ignored federal recommendations – when it comes to reimbursing Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics for services provided on the same day to patients who need both physical and mental health care. Across the state, these vital centers provide care to more than 6.5 million patients. The vast majority of their clients live at or below the poverty line, and a substantial number are enrolled in Medi-Cal.

Under current state policy, if a patient receives treatment through Medi-Cal at a community health center from both a medical provider and a mental health specialist on the same day, the State Department of Health Care Services will reimburse for only one “visit,” meaning both providers can’t be adequately reimbursed for their time. A patient must make a return trip for that treatment to count as a second “visit.” As you can imagine, those return trips often never materialize, particularly in low-income communities where taking time off work and finding transportation for health care can prove challenging.

SB 1125 is a simple, straightforward fix to an inequitable policy. It would require the state to allow community health centers to bill Medi-Cal for two visits if a patient is provided mental health services on the same day he or she receives other medical services. This would help ensure early intervention in mental illness and promote an integrated approach to health care that prioritizes both brain and body.

Status: Passed by the Legislature. Vetoed by Gov. Brown on Sept. 27, 2018.  We will continue to pursue legislation in 2019.

A Safety Net After Disaster

California has borne more than its share of disaster in recent years, from mass shootings to devastating wildfires and deadly mudslides. Research is clear that such trauma has effects on mental health that can grow and linger long after the disaster itself is over.  AB 2333, authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, would help establish a standardized, coordinated response to mental health needs in the wake of disaster, similar to the state’s approach to needs such as food and shelter.

AB 2333 bill would create a mental health Deputy Director position within the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The Deputy Director would be charged with preparing for and coordinating trauma-related support in the aftermath of a natural disaster or declaration of a state of emergency. The bill would help ensure that the state includes mental health needs in its broader strategies for supporting and rebuilding communities in the wake of disaster.

Status: Held in Senate Appropriations. 

Training to Save a Life 

Even as death rates from cancer and heart disease fall across the nation, our suicide rate remains stubbornly high. AB 1436, authored by Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, expands the pool of experts trained to recognize the signs of distress. Specifically, it requires the California Board of Behavioral Sciences to ensure that applicants for licensure in the fields of marriage and family therapist, educational psychologist, clinical social worker and professional clinical counselor have completed a minimum of six hours of coursework in suicide risk assessment and intervention.

Status: Signed into law on Sept. 19, 2018



Our Full Legislative Package For 2018:

SB 1004 (Sponsor)

SB 1004 requires California to develop a statewide strategic vision for prevention and early intervention in mental illness, with the aim of standardizing and scaling up best practices.  This bill was signed.

SB 1113 (Co-Sponsor)

SB 1113 authorizes the state to develop and promote the first-ever voluntary standards for workplace mental health.  This bill was signed.

SB 906 (Sponsor)

SB 906 would have established peer certification in California.  This bill was vetoed.

AB 2018 (Sponsor)

AB 2018 would have amended the state’s Steven M. Thompson program to expand the pool of psychiatrists eligible for loan repayment in county mental health programs.  The bill was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 1971 (Co-Sponsor)

AB 1971 would have expanded the definition of “gravely disabled” to allow authorities to compel treatment for people whose mental illness impedes their ability to seek urgently needed medical treatment. The bill was placed in the inactive file at the request of the author.

AB 1436 (Sponsor)

AB 1436 requires applicants for licensure in the fields of marriage and family therapist, educational psychologist, clinical social worker and professional clinical counselor to complete a minimum of six hours of coursework in suicide risk assessment and intervention.

SB 1125 (Co-Sponsor)

SB 1125 would have removed state regulatory barriers that bar medical clinics from billing for physical and mental health services provided to Medi-Cal patients on the same day. This bill was vetoed.

AB 2333 (Sponsor)

AB 2333 would have established a mental health Deputy Director within the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.  The bill was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 2193 (Support)

AB 2193 requires providers treating women for prenatal or postpartum care to screen for maternal mental health conditions. This bill was signed.

AB 2325 (Support)

AB 2325 prevents a county from denying an eligible veteran mental or behavioral health services while the veteran is waiting for a determination of eligibility for services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This bill was signed.

AB 2022 (Support)

AB 2022 requires public schools to notify students, parents and guardians no less than twice during the school year how to initiate access to youth mental health services on campus or in the community. This bill was signed.

SB 968 ((Support)

SB 968 would have established minimum ratios for mental health counselors at California colleges. This bill was vetoed.

AB 2043 (Support)

AB 2043 would have required the state to establish a crisis hotline for current and former foster youth and their caregivers. This bill was vetoed.

AB 2639 (Support)

AB 2639 requires the governing board for schools that serve students in grades 7-12 to review and update policies on suicide prevention at least every five years. This bill was signed.

SB 960 (Support)

SB 960 requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to submit a report to the Legislature on or before October 1 of each year, to include, among other things, descriptions of progress toward meeting goals related to suicide risk evaluations and progress in implementing initiatives designed to reduce risk factors associated with suicide. This bill was signed.

SB 1152 (Support)

SB 1152 requires hospitals to develop discharge plans for homeless patients. This bill was signed into law.

Find our full 2017 Legislative Package here.

Find our full 2016 Legislative Package here.

Find our full 2015 Legislative Package here.