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.
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.