Governor Signs Heal One Washington Bills

OLYMPIA—The State Legislature in Washington has reached a significant milestone by fostering collaboration between state and tribal governments to combat the fentanyl crisis. Led by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, in partnership with Vicki Lowe of the American Indian Health Commission, Senator Claudia Kauffman, and Rep. Chris Stearns, these bills were signed by the governor yesterday, marking an important step forward in improving health outcomes and advancing equity across the state. 

The focus of these policy, regulatory, and fiscal actions is to support all Washingtonians under the banner of “Heal One Washingtonian.” With American Indian and Alaska Natives experiencing disproportionately high rates of fatalities, the urgency for a unified cross-governmental approach was recognized. 

Lekanoff emphasized the significance of these victories, highlighting the importance of equitable access to quality healthcare for all Washingtonians. Drawing on her identity as a Native American and a mother, she stressed the necessity of collaboration and acknowledgment of tribal sovereignty: “These legislative victories signify a significant step forward in our ongoing commitment to ensuring equitable access to quality health services for all Washingtonians. By prioritizing collaboration and recognizing the sovereignty of Tribes, we are not only addressing the urgent needs of today but also laying the foundation for a healthier and more resilient future for generations to come.” 

In response to the imperative for improved coordination within the Indian behavioral health system, she passed House Bill 1877. This legislation seeks to integrate federally recognized tribal governments’ policies into the Involuntary Treatment Act, aiming to reduce opioid-related deaths among American Indian/Alaska Natives by fostering strategic partnerships between state and tribal entities. 

Another important bill, House Bill 2075, streamlines the licensing process for Indian Health Care providers, particularly focusing on behavioral health inpatient facilities operated by Tribes. By streamlining certification procedures, this bill aims to expand access to treatment to address the opioid and fentanyl crisis affecting Tribal communities. 

Addressing the challenge of cross-jurisdictional cooperation, the legislature passed Senate Bill 6146, which enhances collaboration to prevent fugitives from escaping justice by remaining off reservation. This legislation ensures due process protections while enabling Tribes to effectively address crimes, including the illicit sale of opioids and fentanyl on reservations. 

Vicki Lowe, Executive Director of the American Indian Health Commission (AIHC), expressed gratitude for the support and acknowledgment from the Washington State Legislature during the 2024 Session: “The American Indian Health Commission is so very grateful for the acknowledgment of this public health crisis and support from the Washington State Legislature during the 2024 Session. We especially thank Rep. Debra Lekanoff, Rep. Chris Stearns and Sen. Claudia Kauffman for hearing the words of the Tribal leaders and turning those words into legislation and provisos, then stewarding them through this short session with urgency. We know when Washington State Tribes have the right resources and support, they will lead the way in healing communities.” 

In addition to legislative victories, the state budget includes funding allocations to address pressing issues within Tribal communities, including combating the opioid and fentanyl crisis, supporting education and prevention efforts, and enhancing behavioral health infrastructure. 

Specifically, the budget allocates $900,000 to implement fentanyl prevention initiatives in tribal schools through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and $480,000 for the Tribal opioid & fentanyl response task force under the Department of Health (HCA). 

Capital investments totaling $55,157,000 are dedicated to Tribal substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioral health facilities, supporting projects such as the expansion of treatment centers like the Lummi Nation Substance Abuse Treatment project, Suquamish On-Reservation Health Service Center, and Quinault Indian National Wellness Center. 

These budget provisions represent a concerted effort by the state legislature to address the multifaceted challenges faced by American Indian and Alaska Native communities, underscoring Washington’s commitment to promoting health equity and supporting the sovereignty of Tribes. 

Lekanoff added, “Tribes have been doing the heavy lifting in Washington’s recovery space for decades. I’m immensely proud of the collaborative efforts that have culminated in a package of bills to heal one Washington together.” 

Senator Kauffman expressed excitement at the passage of these bills, noting their significance in providing much-needed resources to Tribal communities. “It’s extremely exciting to work with another Native American legislator on passing these necessary American Indian health care bills,” she said “This is a huge success and achievement for our Tribal communities and will provide much-needed resources to our Tribes. The funding is essential for saving lives, supporting communities, and preserving Tribal culture. This session, we have passed a slate of bills to improve Tribal health, and these pieces of legislation are critical to give our Tribes the tools they need so people can thrive.” 

Rep. Chris Stearns echoed Sen. Kauffman’s sentiments, saying, “It is truly amazing to see what can get done when you have the Native Caucus of Senator Kauffman, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, and myself pulling together with the American Indian Health Commission. I am so proud that Native Americans in Washington can enjoy a higher quality of living through better health care and access to services because of the laws we passed this year.” 

The passage of these bills underscores the commitment of Washington State to address the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities. By prioritizing collaboration, recognition of sovereignty, and targeted investments, the legislature is taking decisive steps towards improving health outcomes and promoting equity for all Washingtonians. 

About the American Indian Health Commission: The American Indian Health Commission for Washington State (AIHC) is a tribally driven organization coordinating the health care delivery system for American Indians and Alaska Natives in Washington State. AIHC is dedicated to ensuring quality health care services and addressing health disparities in Tribal communities.