California could soon create a new easy-to-remember number that responds to mental health emergencies.
Assembly Bill 988, “The Miles Hall Lifeline Act,” was introduced by California Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, on Feb. 18. It would require the state to designate 988 as a mental health crisis hotline number.
The bill is named after 23-year-old Miles Hall, who was killed on June 2, 2019, by Walnut Creek police while he was suffering a mental health crisis.
AB 988 was introduced to comply with the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, signed into law by President Donald Trump. That law requires all states to adopt 9-8-8 as a suicide and mental health crisis hotline to be available for use by July 2022.
AB 988 may exist to comply with new federal law, the bill’s impact on mental health and police response will be felt by those seeking help in mental health emergencies.
“It’s really transformational,” said Tara Gamboa-Eastman, legislative advocate with the Steinberg Institute, a brain-health advocacy organization and sponsor of the bill. “We’ve been talking with people about implementing this, behavioral health experts, people at the counties’ call centers, and this is what everyone has been waiting for.”
“The current system functions so poorly,” Gamboa-Eastman said. “There just isn’t a system and the consequences are deadly right now. If you’re in a crisis, you call 911 and the police respond, which is incredibly traumatizing in and of itself.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of stories of Californians who have been the victims of lack of appropriate mental health services,” Bauer-Kahan said.
She added that a number of people whose loved ones would have been helped if such a number already existed have reached out to her.
“I really do carry this bill in honor of all of those whose lives have been impacted,” she said.
Supporters hope the bill will be approved by state legislators and sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk by this summer.
According to a Washington Post tally of officer-involved shootings of the mentally ill, at least 25 percent of the people who are fatally shot by police officers suffer from acute mental illness.
Ryan Konrad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.