House Budget Proposal Gives Mental Health System a Boost

Washington’s ailing mental-health system would get a significant boost if Democrats in the state Legislature get their way.  Dan Frizzell has that story.

The state Supreme Court’s order that the Legislature fully fund basic education in Washington may be the 800-pound gorilla in Olympia these days, but it’s not the only thing lawmakers can’t ignore.  Another court ruling took the state to task for underfunding its mental health system and not paying enough to hire and retain caregivers.  The state House will vote on a budget Friday morning that pumps more than $350 million into the system over the next four years. Democratic state Representative Timm Ormsby of Spokane, the head budget writer in the House, says it’s just the right thing to do.

“McCleary is not the only lawsuit out there that is determining what our budget should look like.  We have a mental health system in this state that is in dire need of being buttressed up. It’s not only just wrong and immoral to chain folks to hospital beds while they wait for a competency hearing; turns out it’s also unconstitutional.  Can’t do it.  Gotta fix it.” 

The Democratic budget sets aside $150 million to fix problems at Washington’s aging state hospitals, and puts nearly that much into community mental health efforts.  Housing and long-term care would receive the balance.  Senate Republicans, who produced their own competing budget, have so far refused to begin negotiations for a compromise spending plan, but with the scheduled end of the session just weeks away, Ormsby and his fellow Democrats are pushing for talks to begin soon. Reporting from Olympia, I’m Dan Frizzell.