Moorlach Talks Mental Health, State finances

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By Sara Hall | NB Indy

Sen. John Moorlach chats with residents after speaking at a Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday. Photo by Sara Hall

Mental health and financial concerns were two serious topics Sen. John Moorlach discussed at a breakfast meeting this week, emphasizing the issues in between a few jokes and a mostly lighthearted speech.

Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary Club hosted Moorlach for a report on current events in Orange County and the California state legislature at a Tuesday morning meeting at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar.

Moorlach represents the 37th district, which stretches from Anaheim to Laguna Beach. A former Rotarian himself, Moorlach is a trained Certified Financial Planner and the only trained CPA in the California Senate.

He began public service in 1995, served for 12 years, then was elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2006, where he served on the OC Transportation Authority and Southern California Regional Airport Authority boards. In March of 2015, Moorlach was elected State Senator for the 37th District.

Moorlach is vice-chair of several committees: Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications; Governance and Finance; and Public Safety. He also sits on Budget and Fiscal Review, Housing, and Insurance committees, as well as several sub-committees.

Moorlach listed several issues he’s worked on, including wildfires, PG&E issues, the housing shortage, taxes, poverty, homelessness, mental health, and public safety. Much of the discussion revolved around mental health, a topic Moorlach has been addressing through legislature recently.

This year, he introduced Senate Bill 640 to expand the definition of “gravely disabled.” Moorlach said he got the most pushback from hospitals.

Existing law (the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act) provides for the involuntary commitment and treatment of a person who is a danger to themselves or others or who is gravely disabled. In 1967, the LPSA passed, which argued that mentally ill people were not being treated properly by involuntarily admitting them into institutions, Moorlach explained.

“They migrated to the street and then they migrated to the jail,” Moorlach said. “So now the largest mental institution in Orange County is the central jail in Santa Ana.”

The idea with SB 640 is that maybe there should be involuntary holds, apart from 5150, he added.

SB 640 would modify the definition of “gravely disabled” to be a person that, as a result of a mental health disorder, is incapable of making informed decisions about, or providing for, the person’s own basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter, without significant supervision and assistance.

It would also clarify that, as a result of being incapable of making these informed decisions, the person is at risk of substantial bodily harm, dangerous worsening of a concomitant serious physical illness, significant psychiatric deterioration, or mismanagement of the person’s essential needs that could result in bodily harm.

The bill would authorize this condition to be demonstrated by the person’s treatment history and recent acts or omissions. By increasing the level of service required of county mental health departments, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

He also joint-authored SB 1004 with democratic Sen. Scott Weiner from San Francisco that deals with prevention and early intervention for kids that have mental health issues early in life.

“I don’t need another Newport Beach couple coming into my office saying they lost a child to depression,” Moorlach said. “So, we’re trying.”

The financial state of Orange County and the state was also a focus of discussion during the meeting. Moorlach painted a worrisome picture about the financial future of California. In 2020, split roll will be on the ballot, and there will be a lot of bond measures, he pointed out, questioning how, if passed, they will be paid for.

Until last year, California had the highest unrestricted net deficit in the country, Moorlach said. The state went from $169.5 billion upside down to $213.3 upside down. The only “good news” is that New Jersey is in the hole by about $1 billion more, so “we’re 49ers,” he joked.

“We’ve got the worst balance sheet,” Moorlach said. “Something’s going to snap.”

On Monday, Moorlach released his breakdown of the financial state of all 34 cities in Orange County. He reviews each city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and looks at their unrestricted net assets, or net deficit, divided by the population.

“This is like your net worth; it should be a positive number. Regretfully, for a lot of them, most of them, it is a negative number,” Moorlach said.

Last year, Newport Beach placed 32nd on the list. But, thanks to an aggressive approach to the unfunded pension liability, Moorlach explained, the city moved up to 30th.

“Which is pretty impressive,” he said.

Laguna Beach lands at number three, then Irvine, and the city of Tustin takes the top spot.

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