Three years ago lawmakers in Olympia passed a measure to make it easier to detain potentially dangerous individuals for mental illness treatment, but the Legislature did not pay for it because of budget constraints.
On Tuesday, members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on a bill that would provide funding to put the law in place by July 2014.
Senate Bill 5480, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), would implement the 2010 law which allows the involuntary civil commitment of potentially dangerous individuals based on a patient’s past behavior. The current system requires a patient to pose an immediate threat or danger.
“The change would take us in the right direction in getting people who are a danger to the community into treatment,” Keiser said.
Implementing the program would cost the state between $16 million and $23 million in the next two-year budget cycle.
The bill would allow the use evidence-based community services to treat individuals at the local level, which supporters say brings down the cost and makes the state eligible for matching Medicaid dollars. The 2010 legislation called for more beds at Western State Hospital.
Supporters say any delay will end up costing lives.
“Right now, we have more people in jail awaiting evaluations than we have beds to serve them,” said Larry Thompson, who works at Western State Hospital. He said many of his patients ended up incarcerated because the state Legislature “kicked the can down the road” by not funding the original law.
The legislation is part of a package of proposals Senate Democrats have introduced to prevent gun violence.
No one testified against the legislation during the hearing Tuesday. The committee did not take action on the bill.