In the 2019-2021 biennial budget, the State invested a significant amount of money in the behavioral health system. Whether that funding is sufficient is yet to be seen because of the many, complex factors involved, including finalizing integration, and issues related to the state hospitals, capacity, staffing, and Trueblood.

In the capital budget, $119.9 million is dedicated to community-based behavioral health beds. This money is split between a competitive process to expand community-based behavioral health services and community-based projects for a variety of behavioral health services including long-term civil commitments, triage, crisis diversion, detox, and adolescent services.

In the operating budget, $51 M (NGF-O) and $45.8 M (Federal) is provided for community capacity to provide behavioral health inpatient and residential treatment services, which includes phasing in funding for community beds to provide long-term commitment services. Funding is also provided for an increase in beds, intensive behavioral health residential programs, and crisis respite services.

Affordable housing and homelessness was another major issue in this session. The State is providing a $30 million increase (a total of $44.1 million) for homelessness-related programs including Housing and Essential Needs. It’s also providing $175 million for affordable housing projects under the Housing Trust Fund.

One significant affordable housing bill that passed is SHB 1406 which authorizes the governing body of a county or city to impose a local sales tax, credited against the state sales tax for affordable or supportive housing. The bill provides for $104 million in potential revenue for the biennium, which is approximately three-quarters of what the original bill provided. This is a great outcome and one for which advocates fought hard.

Of the Veterans bills we’ve been tracking, the Vet Levy Bill, HB 1829, did not pass, but 2SHB 1448 did which creates the Veterans Service Officer Program for rural counties. However, the budget provides only one-time funding of $600,000 for two eligible counties. We had hoped for more.

And, finally, 2SSB 5604 passed. This is the bill that adopts the Uniform Guardianship Act and repeals our existing guardianship laws. While we believe the bill will result in a significant, negative fiscal impact on counties related to new public defense costs, legislators assured us that it will not and that they will continue to work on this bill in the coming years (it has a drawn-out implementation period).

It will come as no surprise to you, I’m sure, that no new funding was provided for sorely needed trial court public defense services costs. This is no doubt disappointing as this remains one of the greatest cost burdens to county budgets.

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Juliana Roe comes to WSAC with almost a decade of experience working as non-partisan staff in the Washington State Senate. She has a strong legal background and knowledge of our court system as she served as a law clerk for Chief Justice Alexander for the Washington State Supreme Court, as well as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. Juliana received her Juris Doctorate from Seattle University School of Law, and her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington. She represents WSAC on issues relating to public safety, law and justice, and human services.
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