Before the Washington State House of Representatives awarded final passage Saturday to SB 5476, the Legislature’s response to the State Supreme Court’s Blake decision, Bateman (D – Olympia) revealed why this bill hits close to home for her: she struggled with addiction in her early twenties.
“You’re listening to living proof that we are more than our worst moments, and that compassion and opportunity are stronger than iron bars. Every person can thrive if they are given a chance at redemption and healing. Please vote yes” said Bateman.
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79 of Bateman’s colleagues did vote yes, sending the bill to Governor Inslee’s desk with bipartisan support.
Described as a temporary new legal framework for adjudicating the possession of controlled substances, SB 5476 reduces the penalty to a simple misdemeanor and mandates that jurisdictions provide treatment options. The bill provides $88.5 million over the next two years to build out those treatment options.
About $45 million will be used to implement a statewide Recovery Navigator Program that will provide community-based treatment and long-term case management for people with substance use disorder. Another $12.5 million will establish a Homeless Outreach Stabilization Team Program and $4.5 million will be used to expand a therapeutic court model to municipal and district courts, which will have jurisdiction over controlled substance possession now that it has been made a misdemeanor.
This framework will be in place for two years. Over the next two years, a Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee will review the legal system response and recommend a substance use recovery plan. The advisory committee’s interim report is due Dec. 1, 2021, and its final report Dec. 1, 2022.
The bill also permits state courts to hire commissioners to help resentence people who were convicted under the law that law that made unintentional possession of drugs a crime. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court in February.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, (D – Redmond) was among a group of Democrats who wanted the bill to go further. Arguing that the policy response to the Blake decision should be a “treatment-first approach,” Dhingra wanted the bill to decriminalize simple possession entirely. The bill was amended to make simple possession a crime, though it reduced the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“This bill is not an ideal solution, but it is a thoughtful step forward,” said Dhingra. “It achieves three important goals. First, it establishes a statewide approach to addressing drug possession. Second, it prioritizes and funds treatment for substance use disorder. And third, it provides us the time to come up with a public health approach to substance-use disorder that relies on best practices and access to treatment that takes into account equity.”
Earlier this week, Attorney General Bob Ferguson came out in favor of decriminalization for simple possession.
“This is Washington’s moment to overhaul a broken system and end the failed war on drugs. Criminalizing simple drug possession exacerbates racial disparities. Moreover, it continues our failed criminal justice response to a public health challenge. It’s time for a new approach,” said Ferguson.
The version that passed Saturday was said to be a compromise that would ensure bipartisan support. The legislative session ends Sunday.
A transcript of Bateman’s full speech is available below.
I’d like to tell you the story of a woman in the 22nd District. In her early twenties, she began a relationship with someone experiencing addiction, and within a year, she was too. She wasn’t a bad person; she was self-medicating to cope with a history of untreated trauma.
For four years she struggled and failed to overcome it on her own. It was after two of her childhood friends lost their lives and another went to prison that she finally summoned the strength to permanently abstain. She found a safe and stable home, and she began to heal because of the lifesaving medication of Suboxone and countless hours of therapy.
Within two years, she finished college; the first in her family. She entered a graduate program and started volunteering in her community. Not long after that she bought her very first home, and she’s now been clean for over 14 years.
Many of these things wouldn’t have been possible had she been convicted of a felony. She wouldn’t have qualified for the Pell Grant that helped finance her college education. She would’ve had trouble finding a decent job and a place to live. This young woman’s story is unique simply because she was lucky.
So many other stories turn out differently because for decades, we’ve tried a daily policy of punishment and fear instead of treatment and hope. I know this story because that young woman is now speaking to you on the floor of the House of Representatives.
You’re listening to living proof that we are more than our worst moments, and that compassion and opportunity are stronger than iron bars. Every person can thrive if they are given a chance at redemption and healing, Please vote yes.”
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