By Andrew Engelson
With Democrats unable to pass a new drug possession law required by the Blake state supreme court ruling before the 2022 session ended, Gov. Jay Inslee, who revcently announced he won’t run for a fourth term, called a special session of the legislature, which will begin on May 16 and could last up to 30 days. In a statement, Inslee said he was “optimistic about reaching an agreement that can pass both chamber[s]. Cities and counties are eager to see a statewide policy that balances accountability and treatment, and I believe we can produce a bipartisan bill that does just that.”
Inslee’s emphasis on “bipartisan” seems to indicate he’lll be pushing for the more punitive version of the bill, which would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail. That bill failed to pass after 11 House Democrats voted against it and no Republicans voted for it. The House version set the penalty for possession at a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, and offered more options for diversion to services or treatment instead of jail.
The state’s long-neglected Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash grant program got multiple boosts, including passage of HB 1260, which ends the pay-back requirement for an assistance program that benefits some of the state’s poorest residents.
On his website, Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah), who favors a more punitive approach of the bill that includes coercive treatment, said he hoped legislators could resolve their differences in a one-day special session.
However, for the bill to pass the House without progressive support, some Republicans will need to get on board. In a letter to Inslee last week, House Republicans said any new bill would need to make possession a gross misdemeanor, allow local governments to outlaw drug paraphernalia such as needles and smoking supplies, and require advance public notice whenever a new opioid treatment facility opened.
If progressive Democrats are going to pass a less punitive version of the bill without those Republican votes, they can only afford to lose four centrist Democrats.
In the meantime, the legislature passed its two-year budget, with $9 billion in capital funding, a $13.5 billion transportation plan, and a $69.3 billion operating budget. Behavioral health services got a substantial boost of $603 million to $1.2 billion, and $140 million in opioid settlement funds will pay for services for people with substance use disorders.
In the operating budget, the state’s long-neglected Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash grant program got multiple boosts, including passage of HB 1260, which ends the pay-back requirement for an assistance program that benefits some of the state’s poorest residents. The budget boosts funding for the ABD program by 8 percent, and includes $50 million to eliminate the requirement that people who received ABD while waiting to qualify for federal disability benefits pay the state back for the benefits they received.
The operating budget also includes a $26.5 million boost for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) rental and basic-needs assistance program and a $45 million increase intended to improve wages for human services workers. House Bill 1474, introduced by Rep. Jamila Taylor, (D-30, Federal Way) creates a fund to provide assistance to first-time homebuyers adversely affected by a history of racist covenants and redlining. The $150 million fund will be financed by a $100 increase in the document recording fee, which is added to real estate transactions and which currently also funds much of the state’s operating budget for grants to nonprofits that run low-income housing, homeless services, and emergency shelters.
The state’s capital budget included $520 million for affordable housing, including $400 million for the Housing Trust Fund (a substantial increase over the $175 million allocated to the fund in the 2021-22 budget), $40 million to purchase land for affordable housing, and $14.5 million specifically for shelter and housing for youth.
The biennial budget, as well as HB 1260 and HB 1474, are still awaiting the governor’s signature.