Funding schools and repairing the state's troubled mental health system are top priorities for the next legislative session, lawmakers and the governor said Thursday during panel discussions in Olympia.
"We are in crisis with respect to mental health in this state," said Senator Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who chairs the sub-committee on Behavioral Health. "It is unacceptable that our prisons are our psychiatric hospitals."
Governor Jay Inslee said his top priorities were climate change, improving behavioral health and safeguarding killer whales. Inslee said he hoped to help the killer whales by reducing noise and water temperature, as well as by removing culverts that affect salmon runs.
He dismissed criticisms that he was unaware of the needs of the state of Washington while he was considering a presidential candidacy in 2020, especially his next trip to Nevada and beyond.
"You can rest assured that if I have trips, I have a fantastic story to tell. The story of Washington, "he said during the legislative presentation of the Associated Press in Olympia. The state has grown dramatically, adopted the first US law on internet neutrality and is considered the best place to do business in the country, he said.
House Minority Leader, JT Wilcox, R-Yelm, said he was certain the state would work while Inslee was exploring a candidacy for the presidency, "but it's harder to focus on good government when people are looking for the next job. "
The legislature opens the session of 2019 on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, has now stated that the state is no longer disregarded for its inability to adequately fund education, which would allow legislators to explore more widely what is needed.
"We need to put in place a high-quality early learning system and help low-income children go to university," he said. "We can look globally now that we do not have a court order that compels us to watch a piece."
School funding accounts for about 50% of the state budget. That will be a priority, said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. Special education will be a high priority for lawmakers, he said.
A $ 675-million plan to improve mental health services in Washington is one of Inslee's priorities.
The money would go to hire more workers on the ground. The Democrat's plan would also pay for hundreds of new community mental health beds and create a partnership with the University of Washington to create a new teaching hospital focused on behavioral health.
"This is a transformational effort," Inslee said of the recovery plan for mental health. "We need to increase the scale of our efforts, the number of people served" and move to a more community-based system.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, a top Republican in the House Health and Wellness Committee, said that behavioral health is a long-term problem and legislators need to come out of the session with a plan .
One of the most glaring mental health problems is the violence that currently prevails in the state's largest psychiatric facility. Staff and patents at Western State Hospital are assaulted daily, according to a report by Good Medical.
The legislators of the panel agreed that security was a problem but offered no solution.
Inslee has announced its intention to fight violence by adding plexiglass around nursing stations, training staff and hiring more people.
"We have increased staffing levels," he said. "This is the main reason for overtime. We still have a lot of work to do. "
Lawmakers and Inslee agreed that one solution would be to transfer some mental health care to communities.
"We can be more creative. We can restore the skills of inpatients and outpatients, "said Dhingra. There are medico-legal patients who can be re-established in the community. "
Many also agreed that the Western State Hospital is too old to function properly and that it would be cheaper to replace it.
"We need a new public hospital and community," said House Speaker Frank Chopp of D-Seattle. "But the essential of this should be in the community."