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Republican Senators put forth package of legislation focused on prioritizing mental health in Washington

On Wednesday morning, Senators Steve O’Ban, John Braun, and Randi Becker announced a series of proposals aimed at improving mental health care and addiction recovery in Washington State. After several years focused on fully funding education, the legislators say it is now time to make mental health care reform the legislature’s top priority.

The proposals put forth by the legislators include reforms to expand Washington’s mental health workforce, new guardianship laws for family members of those with severe mental illness or drug addiction, efforts to improve mental health services in schools, and bills to enable patients to receive treatment closer to home.

Specifically, the legislators proposed five separate bills that they will pursue during the 2019 session. They include:

  1. A bill creating a guardianship program in the state to provide supervision and individualized treatment for those that are “gravely disabled.” The proposed bill would authorize guardians to require treatment for incapacitated persons and require a treatment plan to be made within ten days of establishing a guardianship.
  2. A bill increasing the behavioral health workforce. The bill would require the Department of Health (DOH) to create a reciprocity program to make it easier for certified, out-of-state behavioral health professionals to practice in Washington. The DOH would also be required to explore options for an “interstate compact” for licensing counselors.
  3. A bill expanding the Offender Re-entry Community Safety Program (ORCSP). The ORCSP provides enhanced treatment, services, and case management for released prisoners with serious mental illness. The new bill would rename the program the Re-entry Community Safety Program and would expand to include state hospital patients who are committed as incompetent to stand trial after committing a violent felony or are committed based on criminal insanity.
  4. A bill expanding mental health services in schools by creating a tele-health care delivery model available for students. The goal of the tele-health services will be to identify students in need of these services in order to help prevent school violence, adolescent suicide, and substance abuse.
  5. A bill expanding the availability of community-based behavioral health facilities. As outlined in Governor Inslee’s recently announced mental health system reform plan, the bill seeks to move long-term civil commitments out of Western and Eastern State Hospitals and allow them to receive treatment closer to their communities. The bill asks voters to approve $500 million in bonds over ten years for construction of community mental health treatment facilities throughout the state.

Other proposed bills relate to increasing behavioral health peer support services, increasing coordination between the Department of Social and Health Services and the Veterans Administration, and developing long-term involuntary treatment capacity in communities.

“I am committed to working with my friends across the aisle to put the care of our mentally ill first. This is the session to make improving our mental health care system the top priority of our state,” said Sen. O’Ban, R-University Place.

“Our state faces a crisis in providing adequate, safe and effective treatment for people with mental illnesses,” added Sen. Braun, R-Centralia. “We know that treating people with mental illness in their community keeps them closer to their support network and improves long-term outcomes… An investment in helping people with mental illness goes beyond those being treated; it’s good for their loved ones, keeps our communities safer and recognizes the humanity of all people in our state.”