Introduced in part by the Tri-Valley's Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Assembly Bill (AB) 988 aims to address systemic inequities in our mental health system.

This bill would establish the 988 Crisis Hotline Center, using the digits “988” in compliance with existing federal law and standards governing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It would require the Office of Emergency Services to take specified actions to implement a hotline system to provide crisis intervention services and care coordination to individuals accessing 988.

As Bauer-Kahan stated, “The current system relies on law enforcement and confinement and puts people suffering from mental illness through an expensive and traumatizing revolving door as they shuttle between jails, emergency rooms and the street.”

There have been far too many incidences that ended fatally for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis while in police custody. We’ve seen this tragedy play out in the cases of John Deming (2015), Shannon Estil (2017) and Jacob Bauer (2018) — all in Pleasanton.

We are asking many of our officers to handle situations that are beyond their scope of training. Both law enforcement officials and advocates in groups such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) have called for more support. We don’t need to “defund” the police. We need to enhance the services provided to the public, especially our most vulnerable populations.

To generate funding for the service, AB 988 would create a separate surcharge for appropriate agencies using the line, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. It would create the 988 State Mental Health and Crisis Services Special Fund.

Still in its infancy, AB 988 saw its first reading Feb. 18. It will be heard in committee March 21. We hope to see this assembly bill gain support in the Legislature and ultimately the approval of the California governor.

It’s time to decriminalize those who are suffering from illnesses beyond their control.