Senator Covers Mental Health, State Finances at Rotary Meeting

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Senator John Moorlach speaks to a crowd 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.

About 45 locals attended the event, which was part of the Eminent Speaker’s Guild of Club, and was held at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar.

Moorlach represents the 37th district, which stretches from Anaheim to Laguna Beach, and includes Newport Beach.

“It’s good to be back (in the district) and back at Five Crowns,” where he proposed to his wife 39 years ago, Moorlach said.

Moorlach, a former Rotarian himself, 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 2015, Moorlach was elected State Senator for the 37th District.

Rotary program chair Bill Robbins introduced Moorlach and provided some of his background.

“He was the canary in the mineshaft in 1995 when he took over the largest municipal bond failure in the country,” Robbins said. “He basically rode the white horse and saved the county.”

The Republican Senator also briefly talked about working across the aisle. He works well with Governor Gavin Newsom and other democrats, “believe it or not,” he said.

He went over his schedule, noting which groups he’s involved with, which committees he sits on, and legislature he’s been working on. His workload has been heavy this year, he added.

“It’s been piling on,” he said. “It’s been, probably, my busiest year in Sacramento.”

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.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Moorlach said. “The variety of subjects has been just amazing this year.”

He listed off several topics he’s worked on, including wildfires, PG&E, 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,”

He got the most pushback from hospitals, Moorlach noted.

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

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 basically 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.”

So, 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 Senator 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.

He painted a worrisome picture about the financial future of California. In 2020, 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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