Simmons bills improving homecare and behavioral health system signed

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee put his signature Monday (May 10) on a pair of bills with the potential to improve the lives of Washingtonians in virtually every community in the state. Both pieces of legislation were authored by Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-23), a first-year lawmaker from East Bremerton in Kitsap County.

HB 1086 will streamline delivery of behavioral healthcare by creating the state Office of Behavioral Health Consumer Advocacy to set rules, standards, and procedures for behavioral health advocates throughout the state. This vital function has been handled in the past by 10 different regional ombuds. As Simmons pointed out when testifying for her bill, “Decentralization is effective in many endeavors, but consistency is crucial in the administration and delivery of behavioral health services. This will help us achieve that.”

HB 1411, the other Simmons bill signed Monday, is intended to help eliminate the shortage of homecare workers, especially in the growing number of cases in which one family member is willing and fully qualified to be the paid caregiver for a relative. These potential caregivers are automatically disqualified by the Department of Social and Health Services if they have a criminal conviction somewhere in their past, regardless of their qualifications and the needs of the relative. HB 1411 does away with that automatic disqualification rule.

“That blanket denial eliminates about one in three Washington adults from one of the most thankless but essential jobs imaginable,” Simmons said. “Certainly, not everyone with a criminal record should be in a position of caring for a vulnerable person. But that’s true for many people without records, as well. There are other, more reliable ways of making that call, and this bill recognizes that.”

Both laws go into effect on July 25.

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