Joel’s Law and dealing with lawsuits, disasters, and an increase in child abuse reports

The House Appropriations committee is planning to hear two bills Today, (Jan. 26, 2015):

HB 1258 – Concerning court review of detention decisions under the involuntary treatment act. This is “Joel’s Law,” a bill creating the ability for parents and other family members to provide information to the court in involuntary treatment act cases. The House passed this bill 97-1 last year and it was blocked in the Senate.

The law is named after Joel Reuter, a bright, beloved software programmer who lived on Capitol Hill. When he spun into a severe manic episode of bipolar disorder in 2013, Washington’s fractured mental-health system offered no cushion, despite pleadings from his parents and friends to have him involuntarily hospitalized.

Instead, Joel, believing he was fighting zombies, was killed by Seattle police. He was 28.
Seattle Times Editorial | January 22, 2015

Joel’s Law is a targeted intervention in the mental health system. It will allow parents and family members to provide input to a judge making the final decision to commit someone involuntarily. Parents often have the most information about the situation, enabling the judge to make a more informed decision. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of parents who watch children drift in an out of severe mental illness, getting worse at every turn. We’re better than this, or at least we should be.

HB 1105 – Making 2015 supplemental operating appropriations. This is a super-early, super-small supplemental budget responding to lawsuits, child abuse caseload increases, and natural disasters (Oso and the big fire season.) Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) and I are jointly introducing the proposed bill, and I expect it to get significant bipartisan support.

The state lost a lawsuit ten years ago on how the homecare system for low-income seniors and the disabled is paid for. It finally made its way through the Supreme Court and the state lost. We’re paying tens of thousands a day in interest on the judgment and I’d like to get it paid off.

Last summer the state Supreme Court said that we can no longer keep patients waiting in emergency rooms because we don’t have capacity in our mental health system to evaluate and treat them. In many cases these folks are shackled to gurneys in hallways. Even in more humane cases they’re not getting the treatment they need and often get significantly worse waiting for a space.

We expect to lose a third case when a federal district court judge makes a decision in March and we are therefore taking corrective action now. This is similar to the emergency room case above, but occurs when local police arrest someone and ask for a mental health evaluation to see if the person is competent to stand trial. The law says we can’t keep them for more than 7 days in jail without an evaluation and a room at the state mental hospital. In many cases we’re keeping them in solitary confinement in county and city jails for months. People without mental issues are badly affected by solitary confinement, and for the mentally ill it’s torture and they just get worse.

Again, the Seattle Times (or at least editorial writer Jonathan Martin) is unsparing in their disdain here:

The $90 million cut from the state’s mental health system from 2009 to 2013 directly led to a state Supreme Court’s ruling in August banning very sick patients from being warehoused in hospitals, and probably will lead to a similar ruling next year regarding a lack of treatment in jails. A wavering financial commitment to court-ordered foster care reforms in the same era resulted in an extension of court oversight.
Seattle Times | November 14, 2014

With this supplemental budget we create more space at the mental hospitals, more treatment slots outside the hospitals, raise compensation for psychiatrists so we can actually hire some, and a bunch of other items that fix problems with the system. It’s not everything we need to do to have the system be functional, but it’s a step towards repairing the damage we did during the recession.

I expect the bills to both pass out of committee on Wednesday relatively unchanged and to pass out of the House either Thursday or Monday. I hope the Senate will give both serious consideration.

About the Author

Ross
I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.

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