Joel’s Law passes unanimously in the House

By | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

For Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, the issue of dealing with a mentally ill loved one is personal. Last month, his son, who has dealt with mental illness for years, took a family car and gun and ended up surrounded by police.

Joel Reuter

He told his story in support of Joel’s Law, which enables families to petition courts to review a designated mental health professional’s decision not to detain a person with mental illness.

Dent’s son was hospitalized for several weeks after the incident, but the hospital released him over the family’s objections. Dent’s son then stole the family’s car again, and was arrested.

“He is still in the Grant County jail. We are still struggling to find him psychiatric help. He still needs help. By the grace of God these people didn’t kill my son. I’m grateful for that,” Dent said, urging members to pass the bill. “This is a great thing; it will do good things. I know it will save lives. It will save families.”

The bill was named after Joel Reuter, a Seattle man killed in a shootout with police in 2013.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle, said Reuter’s friends and family lobbied for the changes in the past two sessions, after their efforts failed to get Reuter the help he needed.

“Friends and family tried 48 times to admit Joel to seek mental health treatment and evaluation. And every time they tried they couldn’t get coverage for their son, who in the course of the last seven months of his life tried many times, threatening to kill others and cause personal injury to himself,” he said.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snohomish, said the current law needs to be changed.

“No just society, no humane society disregards its most vulnerable citizens under a perverted sense of civil liberties to the point where they devolve and lose their lives. No just society, no humane society views this issue purely through a prism of an Excel spreadsheet and cost-benefit analysis without a full accounting for the human cost and the human tragedy that this policy inflicts on families,” Rodne said.

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, said there is strong bipartisan support this year for Joel’s Law and other bills to change mental health policy, because of the lobbying from all over the state by people and families affected by mental illness — as well as recent lawsuits that have forced the state’s hand.

“We are 48th in the nation in access to mental health vs. need. We are number one in teen suicides,” she said. “These are not numbers we are proud of.”

House Bill 1258 passed 98-0 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Sheena’s Law, other mental health bills get hearing in House committee

By | January 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Kristen Otoupalik of Spokane said if her friend Christopher Henderson‘s suicide threat history could have been recorded by mental health professionals and police, courts might have been able to force him into getting help before he fatally shot his wife, Sheena Henderson, and himself last year.

“How much would you pay, how many papers would you write and how much time would you invest to save the life of your loved one,” Otoupalik said. “Better yet, how many of you would like to trade places with me, and lose your loved ones because there wasn’t a strong enough paper trail, or we were not able to make changes, no matter how minimal, in our state?”

Kristen Otoupalik (left), Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and Gary Kennison drop Sheena's Law, named after Kennison's daughter. Photo courtesy Rep. Riccelli's office.

Otoupalik spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, which reviewed four mental health bills which would add new standards to commit someone into mental health treatment and give the court alternatives to long-term hospitalization.

Otoupalik and Sheena Henderson’s father, Gary Kennison, both spoke in favor of House Bill 1448, Sheena’a Law, which Kennison requested to be renamed Sheena and Chris Henderson’s Law. The bill would allow officers responding to a threat of suicide to refer the person to a designated mental health professional. That mental health professional can determine whether the person needs more intensive intervention, including involuntary commitment.

Christopher Henderson had been taken to a hospital after a suicide threat, but the family was left with few options when he was released to them after three hours, Kennison said.

“There was no follow up to see if any care was given,” Kennison said. “Not one person called to see if they could help him get mental health (treatment).”

However, James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the bill would force people into the mental health system in cases where police determine that the person is not a danger.

“We don’t think that the right solution is to put the lowest risk people in an already bogged down system,” McMahan said.

However, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs testified in favor of the bill.

Other bills reviewed were:

  • HB 1287 – Allows the courts to order year-long outpatient mental health treatment as an alternative to inpatient commitment.
  • HB 1450 – Allows a person who meets the definition of “in need of assisted outpatient treatment” to be ordered into involuntary mental health treatment.
  • HB 1451 – Adds “persistent or acute disability” as one of the standards that would allow for court-ordered involuntary mental health treatment.

Len McComb, lobbyist of the Washington State Hospital Association, warned that the state needs to back up any changes with funding to keep services and beds available.

“We don’t have a mental health system in this state. We have pieces of a mental health system that is broken,” he said, testifying on HB 1451. “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Simply changing the standards and changing the law and not changing the system will not change things a bit,” he said.


Involuntary commitment, ferry design and Senate floor action on ‘Legislative Review’

By | February 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

On Tuesday’s “Legislative Review,” we have details about a bill that would accelerate the implementation of the state’s involuntary commitment law. In 2010, the state Legislature passed a law making it easier to commit dangerous people with mental illnesses. But it never got funded. The measure discussed Wednesday would provide funding and move up the implementation date to next year.

We also cover Senate floor action, as well as a public hearing over a measure that would prohibit the state’s ferry department from designing boats in the future.