OLYMPIA – House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) introduced House Bill 1578 today, legislation in response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision. Goodman is leading a workgroup appointed by Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins to craft a thoughtful and deliberate new measure related to drug possession that takes into account the history of racially discriminatory practices that have targeted communities of color, provides relief and support for people struggling with substance use disorder, strengthens public health, and enhances public safety.
“What we’ve been doing for decades is clearly not working,” said Goodman. “We need a fundamental shift in how we respond to people suffering from substance use disorder in Washington. We are failing our loved ones and our neighbors who are not receiving the support and treatment they need in the current punitive regime, and we are failing the taxpayers who are being asked year after year to pay for an approach that has proven to be wasteful and counterproductive.”
Several proposals have been introduced by members of both parties in the House and the Senate. The House hopes to review Sen. Manka Dhingra’s proposal, SB 5476, when it passes the Senate. Both SB 5476 and HB 1578 seek to create a framework that treats substance use disorder as the public health problem that it is and provides protections for youth, but the House approach reflects a desire to move further toward therapeutic care and away from criminal sanctions.
“The vast majority of people with substance use disorder want help. The problem is not that they will not accept treatment, it is that they cannot access it,” said Simmons. “This bill seeks to re-orient our approach to providing a compassionate response to those suffering from substance use disorder. Having struggled myself with substance use disorder in the past, a helping hand would have been a lot more effective than a prison sentence.”
The House bill focuses on creating the necessary behavioral health infrastructure to address substance use disorder effectively and compassionately. While the Washington Recovery Budget and proposed House Capital Budget include almost a billion dollars for behavioral health programs and infrastructure, HB 1578 will connect people to treatment in several ways. First, it will increase spending for diversion and treatment programs that exist right now. Second, it will create a task force within the Health Care Authority to examine our behavioral health system and recommend changes to create the necessary infrastructure and remove barriers to treatment.
House Bill 1578 will be on the House Introduction Sheet for Thursday, April 15, 2021.