Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, April 13, 2009

ESB 5519 scheduled for a vote in the State House of Representatives

I've written a couple of times here on The Advocate about ESB 5519, a bill that would improve the statutes governing a mentally ill defendant's competency to stand trial. If you're not familiar with the bill, its main benefit is that it greatly reduces much of the inefficiency we have today, decreasing the amount of time mentally ill defendants must spend in jail while waiting to be evaluated.

ESB 5519 easily passed the Senate last month by a vote of forty four to one.

Things seemed to be proceeding smoothly as the bill moved to the House Human Services Committee a few weeks ago.

It came as quite a shock, at least to me, that a number of groups strongly opposed the bill. At one point during the hearing (at which I testified) Chair Mary Lou Dickerson asked those testifying against if their concerns could be addressed through amendment. The answer at the time was "no".

Several people (including me) submitted written follow-up comments. The committee ended up reporting out the bill with a "do pass" recommendation, and the proponents and opponents of the bill got together to try to work out an acceptable alternative in those areas of disagreement. A compromise has been hammered out, with all involved doing their best to reach common ground.

I should mention that all parties involved, whether they testified in favor of or against the bill, share the same goal: to reverse the trend of housing the mentally ill in jail instead of in treatment facilities or in community-based outpatient treatment. Everyone's heart is in the right place on this one; the disagreement was over whether the bill would do what it is supposed to.

One of the key components of the bill is a requirement that the state Department of Social and Human Services, or DSHS, track data by county, region, and state hospital. That leaves open the possibility in the future of evaluating the effectiveness of the legislation, and of fine tuning those provisions that can be improved or eliminating those provisions that prove ineffective.

I feel optimistic, but not as optimistic as I'd like. I believe that the proposed modifications to the bill are workable, meet the concerns of those involved, and will not detract from the bill's purpose.

We at NPI urge you to contact your representatives in support of ESB 5519.

As of Friday, ESB 5519 had been cleared to go onto the House Floor Calendar by the Rules Committee. It must pass the House by April 17th.

If you have questions about the bill or would like more information, leave a comment for me and I'll try to provide some answers.


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