The Legislature reconvenes Monday. Beyond the huge education debate, the list of must-do legislative action includes mental-health reform and changes to state driver’s licenses.
THE 2017 Legislature has a huge must-do task in reforming the state’s education-financing system for nearly 1.1 million schoolchildren and improving outcomes for them. But the state also has other pressing needs beyond education. Here’s a short list of must-dos and should-dos.
Mental health: Lawmaker’s top non-education priority should be mental-health reform. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed mental-health budget is ambitious and is a good starting point.
In the past two sessions, the Legislature provided money to expand crisis psychiatric care, with some success. Washington reversed its bottom-of-the-nation ranking for state-funded psychiatric beds, although demand is still rising. It is unclear if an influx of money will end federal oversight of a dysfunctional Western State Hospital; a critical deadline looms later this spring.
Lawmakers’ most important job
Read Sunday’s editorial about what the Legislature should do to answer the Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education. Go to: http://www.seattle times.com/?p=10256721
The Legislature should view the inpatient mental-health crisis — documented in a series of court rulings and federal audits — as a referendum on the quality of its outpatient system. A holistic reform plan should address the appalling clinic-to-jail pipeline for people with mental illness, and the overlap between people who turned to heroin and opioids for untreated mental illness.
The Legislature must also recognize that stronger community services — including supportive housing for people with mental illness — is a good investment on the cost-benefit scale and provides a more compassionate system for Washington’s vulnerable citizens.
More money must come with more accountability. Inslee has some ideas, but the Legislature, which launched a task force to dig into the Western State Hospital mess, needs to think broadly about how to get better results from the $1.1 billion-per-biennium system.
Real ID: Next January, Washington’s driver’s licenses will no longer be acceptable identification to board commercial airplanes. That’s because the state delayed complying with the federal Real ID Act, a post-9/11 law that mandates rigorous security measures be built into state-issued IDs. Washington does not comply because it does not require proof of citizenship to get a license.
The federal law has flaws, but it is not going away. Delay is no longer tenable. A bipartisan proposal by the Legislature’s transportation leads, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, would finally comply by building on the state’s Enhanced Drivers License — which requires proof of citizenship.
Public records: Year after year, lobbyists for local governments demand changes to the state Public Records Act based on anecdotal stories about abusive and overly broad requests from a handful of public-records trolls. The proposed fixes, year after year, would blow holes in the public’s vital tool to hold governments accountable.
Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, brought together local government representatives and public-records advocates to find more nuanced solutions. It was a good process, but the public needs to keep a close eye on what actually becomes of it. The Public Records Act is too important to be watered down.
On the should-do list:
The death penalty. Inslee’s moratorium on executions is a temporary fix, not a solution. The death penalty is not a deterrent. It is applied arbitrarily. And it is ruinously expensive.
The Legislature should put the repeal to a vote. If it does, there’s a very good chance it will pass, because a growing, bipartisan group of lawmakers recognize its flaws.