In California, a state famed for the size of its budget deficit, voters
passed Proposition 63, a ballot initiative that is estimated to result in $700
million in new money for mental health services each year (see
Members of the California Psychiatric Association (CPA) give a great deal
of credit for that victory to Assembly member Darrel Steinberg (D).
Steinberg, in turn, attributes success to the fact that "everyone
knows someone with mental illness. It is not about `those people.'"
He added, "Mental illness is one of the long-ignored issues in
society, but the irony is that it's personal to more people than we
"[We ran] a great campaign," he said. "And, unlike many
other good causes, we were also able to strike a chord with the
Steinberg said he learned from traveling around the state campaigning for
the initiative that there was general knowledge that Ronald Reagan, as the
state's governor, had shut down many of the state mental hospitals in the
"Residents see the consequences of that decision every day in terms
of homelessness and other social problems," he said.
The Campaign for Mental Health, which led the battle for the initiative,
emphasized the idea that Proposition 63 would be a remedy for the state's
broken promises to people with mental illness.
Steinberg is completing his third term representing the 9th Assembly
District, which includes most of the city of Sacramento. He became interested
in the issue of mental illness when serving on Sacramento's City Council in
1996. The city sued a charity serving homeless people for violating a law
concerning limitations on providing meals on
APA Assembly Speaker Al Gaw, M.D. (left), presents California Assembly
member Darrel Steinberg with a Speaker's Award at last year's annual meeting
in San Francisco in recognition of his support on mental health
The case, which attracted national media attention, was really about the
city's frustration with dealing with homelessness, said Steinberg.
He could see the linkage of the problems in Sacramento with the state's
failure to honor its earlier commitments to provide community-based care after
officials closed mental hospitals.
Steinberg made mental health services a key element of his campaign for the
state's Assembly in 1998. He began his service with hopes of passing a $350
million bill to rebuild the state's mental health system but soon confronted
political realities that made passage unlikely and developed a more realistic
With the support of John Burton, president pro-tem of the California
Senate, and the state's first lady, Sharon Davis, he secured passage of AB 34
in 1999. Initially funded at $10 million, the legislation supported Community
Mental Health Demonstration Grants to serve adults with severe mental illness
who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Steinberg said, "I'm a stickler for accountability. We wanted to make
certain the money would be well spent."
The bill required the state's Department of Mental Health to develop a
reporting mechanism to conduct "extensive monitoring and
evaluation" and report results to the legislature.
Those evaluations helped secure an increase in funding to $55 million in
subsequent years and were cited by advocates for Proposition 63 to persuade
voters that funds will be well spent.
The CPA has twice named Steinberg Legislator of the Year. The nonpartisan
California Journal named him Assembly Member of the Year for 2004 and
honored him as the Assembly's top member in the categories of integrity, best
problem solver, and hardest working.
Steinberg will leave office in 2005 because of term limits. "The
number-one thing I want to do," he said, "is to bring this program
model to the rest of the country."