2019 Washington legislative preview: Mental health top priority

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. (Photo: KOMO News)

Key state lawmakers say mental health is the most urgent problem facing our state and the issue is surfacing as the top priority for the upcoming legislative session. Legislators want to keep the focus on local issues as the governor fends off criticism he's more focused on a potential run for the White House.

"We are in a crisis when it comes to mental health in this state and frankly in this country," said State Sen. Manka Dhingra (D, Redmond). The spotlight is on Western State Psychiatric Hospital which has been de-certified by the federal government and has seen a rash of assaults and other safety issues.

Lawmakers at a legislative forum Thursday also said they want to see early intervention and community treatment centers. "We also need to make sure we're focused on every community across the state and we make it better and we make it safer in those communities because I don't think the people feel safe," said State Rep. Joe Schmick (R, Colfax).

"I think there's broad agreement within the legislature that this is a top priority so I think we're going to get a lot done," said State Sen. Keith Wagoner (R, Sedro-Woolley).

"Can I shake your hand on that," quipped House Speaker Frank Chopp (D). "It's going to be our top priority and it's going to be bi-partisan. This is really great." But the details on how to get that done and how to pay for it could get challenging.

Other big issues include how to make vehicle licensing more affordable, what to do about the initiative to roll back to $30 car tabs, how to return to a compromise on the police use of deadly force initiative 940 and what to do about the increasing homelessness crisis.

A big change this year is, because of the midterm elections, democrats have big majorities in both the House and Senate and they have the governor's office.

"They happened to vote for the 'blue' team," said Governor Jay Inslee. "And so I'm happy about that." He said his priorities include climate change, saving the Orcas, finding $4 billion for the McCleary Education Decision and getting some of that money by having a capital gains tax on the top 1.5 percent.

But there's criticism that Inslee's potential bid for the presidency will distract him considering he's making trips to the early primary states of Nevada, Saturday, and New Hampshire later this month.

"You can be assured that if I were going to have travels, I got a fantastic story to tell -- unsurpassed by anywhere else in the country and that's the story of Washington," said the governor. It appears we'll have to wait a little longer before Inslee announces whether he'll take a shot at the White House.

The new legislative session opens on Monday and is set to run for four months unless overtime special sessions are needed.

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