A Game of Chicken, Part 2
In yet another game of chicken, the Legislature could finish up this week without renewing Kendra’s Law — and so needlessly put the public at risk.
Letting the law expire would allow as many as 3,000 seriously mentally ill New Yorkers in mandated treatment to go off the meds that keep them functioning normally.
Passed in 1999 after a schizophrenic off his meds pushed Kendra Webdale to her death in front of an N train, the law lets courts compel outpatient treatment for those whose mental illness poses a public threat.
Some lawmakers feared officials might abuse that power, so the law sunsets periodically. But Kendra’s Law has worked well for nearly two decades, helping people whose illness would otherwise lead to violence, incarceration and/or homelessness.
The Senate has passed a bill that renews the law (with minor improvements) with no sunset clause. Both the current and past chairmen of the Assembly mental-health committee, Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) and Peter Rivera (D-Bronx), agree that Kendra’s Law should become permanent.
But Speaker Carl Heastie wants only a straight five-year extension. He says that “compels us to reevaluate the program every few years to look for opportunities for improvement.”
Hmm: His bill doesn’t actually make any improvements. A cynic might think he’s just preserving a possible future bargaining chip.
But the fact of the matter is that the Assembly approach doesn’t actually harm anyone, in the way that renewing mayoral control without lifting the charter cap does.
Kendra’s Law is a life-saver. It would be malpractice to let it lapse.