Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrives to speak at the Associated Press Legislative Preview on Thursday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrives to speak at the Associated Press Legislative Preview on Thursday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Legislative leaders to outline plans for upcoming session

Gov. Inslee said his top priorities are climate change, behavioral health care and saving the orcas.

By Martha Bellisle / Associated Press

Funding schools and fixing the state’s struggling mental health system are top priorities for the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers and the governor said Thursday during panel discussions in Olympia.

“We are in a crisis when it comes to mental health in this state,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who chairs the Behavioral Health Subcommittee. “It’s unacceptable for our jails to be our mental health hospitals.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said his top priorities are climate change, working on behavioral health and saving the orcas. Inslee said he hopes to help orcas by reducing noise and water temperatures, as well as removing culverts that impact salmon runs.

He rejected criticism that he is ignoring the needs of Washington state as he looks toward a possible run for president in 2020, in particular his upcoming trip to Nevada and beyond.

“You can be assured, if I have travels, I have a fantastic story to tell. The story of Washington,” he said at The Associated Press Legislative Preview in Olympia. The state has enjoyed spectacular growth, had the first net-neutrality law in the U.S. and is considered the best place to do business in the country, he said.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said he was sure the state would function while Inslee explores a presidential bid, “but it makes it more difficult to concentrate on good government when you’ve got people looking for the next position.”

The Legislature opens the 2019 session Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said now that the state is no longer being held in contempt for its failure to adequately fund education will allow lawmakers to look more broadly at what’s needed.

“We need to build a system for high-quality early learning and to help low income kids go to college,” he said. “We can look holistically now that we don’t have a court order that forces us to look at one piece.”

School funding makes up about 50 percent of the state’s budget, so it will be a priority, said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. Special education will be a high priority for lawmakers, he said.

Among Inslee’s priorities is a $675 million plan to improve mental health services in Washington.

The money would go to hire more workers in the field. The Democrat’s plan would pay also for hundreds of new community mental-health beds and create a partnership with the University of Washington to establish a new teaching hospital focused on behavioral health.

“This is a transformative effort,” Inslee said of the mental health recovery plan. “We need to increase the scale of our efforts, the number of people who are served” and go to a more community-based system.

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, said behavioral health is a long-term problem and that lawmakers need to come out of the session with a plan.

One of the most glaring mental health problems is the ongoing violence at the state’s largest psychiatric facility. Staff and patents at Western State Hospital are assaulted on a daily basis, according to a report by AP.

The lawmakers on the panel agreed that safety was a problem but failed to offer any solutions.

Inslee said they plan to address the violence by adding Plexiglass around the nursing stations, training personnel and hiring more people.

“We’ve been building staffing levels,” he said. “It’s the principle reason for the overtime. We have a lot more work to do.”

The lawmakers and Inslee agreed that one solution would be to move some of the mental health care into communities.

“We can get more creative. We can do inpatient and outpatient competency restoration,” said Dhingra. There are forensic patients who can be restored in the community.”

Many also agreed that Western State Hospital is too old to function adequately and it would be cheaper to replace it.

“We need a new state hospital and we need a lot in the community,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. “But the bulk of this should be in the community.”

Talk to us

More in Northwest

UW Medicine to furlough about 4,000 workers

Officials said it was necessary to address a $500 million financial impact from COVID-19.

Washington colleges, universities brace for big budget hit

At community colleges, many hands-on vocational programs were canceled.

Guest workers worry their bodies won’t get back to Mexico if they die

Only cremated remains have been approved for repatriation.

Baby gorilla badly injured in family skirmish at Seattle zoo

Kitoko was bitten on the head, likely by accident when another gorilla tried to bite his mothera.

2 new cases of Kawasaki-like disease in children in state

Symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and swollen hands, feet, lymph nodes and lips.

‘Alarming’ number of motorcycle fatalities to start the year

Twenty-five motorcyclists have died so far this year throughout Washington state.

State sues Trump over college students’ coronavirus aid

AG Ferguson says over 85,000 students who desperately need financial assistance have been excluded.

‘Hundreds of millions’ in bogus jobless benefits paid out

Washington state has been reported as the top target of a Nigerian fraud ring.

GOP lawmakers are getting tired of Inslee’s pandemic powers

Some want a special legislative session, saying “it is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”

Washington contact tracers making calls to help fight virus

People notified of their potential exposure will not be told the name of the infected person.

EPA says federal dams raise water temperature in Snake River

The warmer water can cause fish to stop their migrations and swim around aimlessly, as though lost.

U-1 Miss HomeStreet driven by Jimmy Shane, left, and U-9 Sound Propeller Services Presents Les Schwab Tires driven by Andrew Tate race during the Seafair Hydroplane race Sunday afternoon in Seattle on August 7, 2016. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Annual Seafair festival in Seattle canceled

Organizers of the longtime annual festival in Seattle announced its major events will not happen.