OLYMPIA – The Washington State House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 5476 in response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s State v. Blake ruling today with a vote of 80-18. Originally passed by the Senate on April 15, the bill now heads back to the Senate with several House amendments. The House increased funding for the behavioral health system, reduced the penalty for drug possession from a gross misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor, and mandated law enforcement to offer pre-booking referrals to assessment and services in lieu of arrest. The House proposal expires the misdemeanor penalty in July of 2023 in anticipation of legislation enacting a longer-term solution in the 2023 session.
“This is only a temporary measure,” said House Public Safety Chair Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland). “On the one hand, what we have been doing for decades has clearly not worked and we now have an opportunity to respond to people living with untreated substance use disorder in a much more effective way. On the other hand, where the Court’s ruling came down at the end of the legislative session, we have had no time to engage all stakeholders and craft a long-term solution to shift away from the current punitive regime to a more effective and humane approach focused on support and treatment. With this bill we are making unprecedented investments in our behavioral health system, and we are directing a committee of experts to examine this issue in depth and make recommendations for legislative action in 2023 to put a more permanent solution in place.”
The bill includes $88 million in new spending to expand access to treatment and recovery support services. The centerpiece of the package is a new statewide Recovery Navigator Program, which will accept referrals from multiple sources including family members, emergency departments, and law enforcement and provide intensive case management and proactive connection to treatment and recovery supports for individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). This new funding is on top of over $940 million included in the operating and capital budgets for behavioral health services including $97 million for rate increases mental health and SUD providers and $39 million to expand adult and youth mobile crisis teams.
“Between our budgets and this bill, we are investing more in SUD services than ever before,” said Rep. Lauren Davis (D-Shoreline). “The SUD continuum of care has three parts: pre-treatment outreach, treatment, and recovery support services. We have always funded treatment, but this is the first time we have made significant investments in the outreach services that connect people to care and the recovery services that help people achieve long-term recovery. Substance use disorder is a treatable brain disease. When we fully fund the continuum of care, recovery becomes not only possible, but probable.”
“It is Black people and people of color who have been the most impacted by this broken system,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-Federal Way). “We must do more to address the harm that those families and communities have suffered. This bill makes sure that going forward lawmakers share the responsibility, with community, to enact solutions in a thoughtful, restorative way. We must not return to a felony for possession system that creates catastrophic barriers to recovery.”
In order to facilitate pre-booking referrals into diversion, the bill amends the alternatives to arrest statute to explicitly include individuals with substance use disorder. It also includes funding for the Criminal Justice Training Commission to train officers on how to interact with people with SUD including special considerations for interactions with youth.
The bill now heads to the Senate for concurrence.