The state House of Representatives voted 83-13 Tuesday afternoon on new language to the so-called “Blake Fix” drug possession measure, Senate Bill 5536, after an earlier version failed to pass the House floor on April 23, the final night of the 2023 regular session. The Senate approved the bill Tuesday morning, 43-6.
After more than three weeks of intensive negotiations between the four caucuses in the House and Senate, a bipartisan agreement emerged over the weekend in time for the first day of the special session, Tuesday, May 16.
Had legislators failed to act, hard drug possession would become legal July 1.
Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, ranking Republican on the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee, was one of the negotiators and supported the latest language of the bill.
“Since the state Supreme Court ‘Blake’ ruling in February 2021, the state has fallen short of helping people suffering from drug addiction. We’ve seen a massive increase of deaths from fentanyl, heroin and other hard drugs, and yet people are being ignored as they shoot up on the streets. That’s not okay. The tragedy of free-flowing narcotics and their impacts on our communities is heartbreaking.
“Going into these negotiations, we sought and secured several important provisions to ensure a meaningful policy to help save lives. Judges and prosecutors will have more involvement and discretion to determine what’s best for each individual situation – whether it is someone who has struggled with drug addiction for 20 or 30 years as opposed to someone with a newer drug problem. They’ll have more options for diversion and treatment, and those in need of additional support would have the guidance of those who have been through this journey.
“We worked to establish the penalty of a gross misdemeanor with at least 180 days to ensure there is enough time to get these charges through the courts without dismissal because of backlogs or other circumstances. This ensures those charged have a greater opportunity to detox and get the treatment they need instead of being dropped from the court system. Plus, it reduces a revolving door of offenses, especially for those who truly want to get well.
“We made sure local governments still have the authority to restrict drug paraphernalia in their communities so people aren’t just handing out crack pipes and other means of equipment used to perpetuate drug use. However, this also gives local communities flexibility in case they have established needle exchange locations.
“Public notifications and hearings would also be required for the siting of opioid treatment facilities in local communities, giving people the ability to voice where they should be located. We fought to protect children and ensure they are not included in health engagement hubs alongside adult users who are doing such activities as smoking drugs or shooting up heroin. And in this agreement, we were able to have separation between those seeking sobriety and waiting for treatment beds versus those actively using drugs. This bill gives those who want to heal the best chance to get well.
“This latest agreement strikes a fair and important balance between accountability and compassion for those addicted to hard drugs. It empowers law enforcement with the tools they need to help people in crisis and protect the community. It provides a pathway out of the cycle of addiction and into treatment and recovery. It gives an opportunity for those who want out of addiction to have a happy and healthy life.
“It is not the absolute answer to our drug addiction problem in Washington state. We still have a long way to go to invest in a more robust treatment system and to find other ways to solve our drug issue. However, we have come a long way since the end of the regular legislative session by sitting down together and finding bipartisan solutions to address one of the most difficult issues in our state — drug addiction. I truly believe what we approved today will not only change, but save many lives.”
As written, the new bill will take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.
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