State senators voted 31–8 in favor of the bill on Sept. 6, while the Assembly voted 60–16 the next day, moving the legislation to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to either sign into law or veto by Oct. 14.
Jennifer Kennedy, an attorney based in Pasadena, Calif., and a spokeswoman for parental rights group Our Duty, told The Epoch Times that opponents of the bill believe Democratic lawmakers in California hope to usurp parental authority and take control of children before they reach their teenage years.
“This is the wholesale emancipation of children. The state is saying your job is over when your child hits age 12,” she said.
“They’re stacked up like train cars heading down the track directly at our children and us,” Ms. Kennedy said. “We see that in all our statutes where they’ve given these 12-year-old children the ability to seal their medical records, the ability to get abortions, [and] the ability to get two different types of vaccines in the state of California—all of this without parental consent.”
The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), would remove guardrails in current law stating a minor must be deemed in “danger of serious physical or mental harm to themselves or to others” or “an alleged victim of incest child abuse,” before they can consent to mental health treatment or counseling on an outpatient basis or to residential shelter services without the permission of their parents.
The bill would also redefine and expand who qualifies to treat or counsel these children, including a “social work intern” or “a chief administrator of an agency,” for example.
Proponents of the bill say excluding youth of low-income families from mental health coverage under MediCal is discriminatory and the bill will address that problem—while opponents contend all lawmakers had to do was strike the word “not” from current law to allow funding without eliminating the guardrails.
“Children have no business making life-altering decisions. ... That’s why they can’t vote, join the military, smoke, or buy spray paint,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Yet, they want these 12-year-olds to emancipate themselves and check themselves into a group home, which are typically unlocked, unregulated, and much closer to predators and sex traffickers.”
Supporters of the legislation have argued it is about “equity” for children—especially LGBT youth—who they say face a higher risk of suicide and abuse from non-supportive parents.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), an LBGT activist and co-author of the legislation, accused parental rights advocates of spreading “extreme misinformation” to “stoke outrage online” and create “false moral panic that people are running around trying to steal people’s children” at a March 28 committee meeting.
The bill would expand access to counseling for young people who need it, including those who are homeless, and make it easier to provide shelter, he said.
“The outrage machine completely undermines our efforts to address actual children at risk by making pretend that all children are somehow being targeted, and that the mental health profession is targeting them, and their teachers are targeting them, and LGBTQ people are targeting them,” Mr. Wiener said. “It is outrageous.”
Counselors are “dividing families” and “deliberately turning children against loving parents,” when the job of a therapist is “to repair the family unit—not destroy it,” she said.
Rachel Velcoff Hults, an attorney and director of mental health at the National Center for Youth Law, told the committee that AB 665 addresses “a deeply inequitable policy” that blocks youth on MediCal from accessing mental health counseling.
“Removing this barrier is more important than ever, given the mental health crisis that our youth are facing right now—particularly those youth of color with the fewest resources who rely on MediCal,” she told the committee.
Fiona Liu, a high school student in Orange County, testified in support of the bill, contending that current requirements, “such as having to present serious danger to ourselves or to others,” are an obstacle for youth from low-income families.
“As a young person from a more traditional family, I can attest to the mental health stigma that causes youth like me to be afraid to talk to our own parents about our mental health struggles,” she said.
At the same hearing, Erin Friday, an attorney and western U.S. co-leader for Our Duty called the bill “state-sanctioned kidnapping,” and unconstitutional under both federal and state law.
Ms. Kennedy shared the same sentiments: “I call it state-sanctioned kidnapping because it allows the state, it allows any professional person to check your child into a government-run or government-funded group home—basically the child welfare system—without your consent and without any due process,” she said.