A bill introduced in the Washington State Senate looks to address the lingering issues from the Washington State Supreme Court's Blake decision and the temporary fix the State Legislature made last session that expired July 1st or this year.

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38th District Senator June Robinson D-Everett put forth Senate Bill 5536 (SB 5536) that attempts to find common ground with those seeking a full return to pre-Blake penalties and those who do not.  It is a difficult line to walk and the bill put forward will attempt to walk it.

Sen. June Robinson, D-38
Sen. June Robinson, D-38
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The Blake decision decriminalized the possession of most drugs in Washington State, the current fix makes possession of those same drugs a misdemeanor.  Sen. Robinson's bill would upgrade the charges to a gross misdemeanor and provide options for those arrested to seek help.  The bill stops short of returning possession to felony status which is what some lawmakers wanted.

The options that would for those arrested and awaiting trial would include the ability to take part in a pretrial diversion program with the State allotting additional funding to support those programs.  The fix would also allow for a drug conviction to be vacated if the person completes a treatment program.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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SB 5536 also has a fiscal note attached to help pay for the costs of the proposed treatment options.  The options are not a given as the court will decide whether or not the person charged should or could be granted access to a diversion program.  The General Fund will reallocate to the Health Care Authority (HCA):

  • $36.6 million to expand efforts to provide opioid use disorder (OUD) medication in
    city, county, regional, and tribal jails
  • $7 million to provide support for new and established clubhouses throughout the
    state
  • $3.2 million to establish and expand 23-hour crisis relief centers distributed to an
    equivalent number of crisis services providers in Western Washington and Eastern
    Washington.
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The fiscal note for also estimates local costs for local jurisdictions to be just under $2,260,000 for the coming year.  The bill received a hearing, and saw executive action taken, in the Law and Justice Committee last week.  Now it heads to the Ways and Means Committee after referral.

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Gallery Credit: Angela Underwood

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