A bill that would prohibit rehab facilities from falsely advertising or marketing their services was reintroduced in the Senate Wednesday.
Senate Bill 434, authored by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), would specifically prohibit the operator of a licensed alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility, a certified alcohol or other drug program, and a licensed mental health rehabilitation center, psychiatric health facility, or social rehabilitation facility from making false or misleading statements about their products, goods, services or location. SB 434, also known as ‘Brandon’s Law’ would also authorize the California Department of Health Care Services to investigate any breach of the new law.
Previous attempts by Senator Bates at the bill failed in previous years. In 2019, SB 589 passed in both the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom over the inclusion of recovery residences and third parties making false claims.
Last year’s SB 863 changed the language of the bill to remove the troublesome mentions that had gotten the previous version vetoed, but had to be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic creating a shortened session that largely focused on COVID-19, economic, and racial justice bills. As the bill was removed in November, it necessitated a new bill, SB 434.
Senator Bates wrote the series of bills largely due to investigations into the rehab industry finding that many seeking help had been lied to and taken advantage of rehab centers and programs making false claims, with many addicts taken in solely for insurance payments to the centers. The bill itself is named after a victim, Brandon Nelson, who died in an unlicensed rehab home despite multiple assurances that he would receive top care.
“I’m not giving up on the fight to end abuses in the rehab industry,” said Senator Bates on Wednesday in a press release. “No one should ever have to experience what Brandon Nelson and his family did when seeking care. My bill will help protect patients and honor Brandon’s memory.”
SB 434 immediately attracted many supporters on Wednesday, with a bipartisan group of Assembly members and Senators joining the bill as co-authors. Supporters also include many activists for rehab center reform, including Brandon’s parents Rose and Allen Nelson.
“We encourage the Legislature to pass Senator Bates’ bill on behalf of our son,” said the Nelsons in a statement. “He died in a treatment facility due to not having access to his prescribed medications and not receiving the medical oversight we were promised. Residential facilities should not be able to use false marketing to take advantage of the vulnerable and make huge profits off of them.”
Experts have noted that the passage of SB 434 is all but assured this year.
“Bates fixed the part that Newsom had a problem with and both Democrats and Republicans are throwing their support behind the bill,” rehab regulation activist and former rehab center worker Alex Sellers explained to the Globe. “Unless it is vetoed out of spite this year, it should be passed. It’s very hard to find anyone in favor of scamming those most in need.”
SB 434 is expected to go to committee in the coming weeks.