This week, the Senate heard SB 5440 (Dhingra) – Governor request legislation. However, the Law & Justice Committee heard a proposed substitute, introduced by Sen. Dhingra, in lieu of the original bill. We greatly appreciate the pared-down version of the bill as the original version was just not workable for counties.

The proposed sub still leaves counties concerned for a variety of reasons. The proposed substitute provides that the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) may place defendants, who have been charged with felonies and found to be incompetent, in an appropriate facility for restoration, which may include placement in a county jail-based competency restoration unit.

First, and foremost, the State already attempted to provide inpatient restoration programs in correctional settings in 2015 and 2016. As a result, the federal court found the State in contempt and imposed fines that now amount to over $300 million.

Nothing has changed since then that would lead one to believe that trying jail-based restoration, again, will generate a different result.

Second, the language of the proposed substitute is vague and makes it sound as though placing these defendants in jail-based facilities is permissive. However, Sen. Dhingra’s testimony during the committee hearing conveyed that her intentions behind this new language were to have competency restoration completed in jails. Again, the proposed substitute does not explicitly require counties to have jail-based competency restoration units, nor does it require counties to build them. However, based on her testimony they are expected.

That leaves us with a variety of questions…

  • Does this create an expectation that all county jails have these units available for restoration?
  • Can a county be sued for not having these units established and available?
  • Does the State expect all jails to make available jail-based competency restoration?
  • Who will pay for jails to retrofit or build out these units?
  • What happens if a county jail doesn’t have the space for these units, security (corrections officers) for these units, or staffing available to open these units?
  • How does this make sense in the many smaller counties that have a handful, or fewer, competency cases annually?
  • Would counties be liable for housing these individuals in their jails?

Ultimately, we don’t think competency restoration being provided within our jails is the solution to this problem. We will continue to work to find a better solution to this problem.

Representative Macri has sponsored legislation for counties, HB 1515, to address behavioral health network adequacy. The bill does a number of things including requiring the Health Care Authority to make certain changes to the managed care procurement process, including adopting regional standards for behavioral health networks managed by managed care organizations (MCOs), providing for behavioral health provider participation in the process, and evaluating whether limiting the number of MCOs operating in a regional service area reduces provider administrative burden. The bill was heard at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, February 3rd in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Policy Contact:
Julian Roe
WSAC, Policy Director