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Legislature Proposes Behavioral Health Bonds to Expand Mental Health Treatment Capacity

The Chronicle - 1/20/2018

Jan. 20--Legislation sponsored by Sens. John Braun and David Frockt asks voters to approve $500 million in state bonds that would expand community mental health treatment facilities.

The legislation comes at a time when reports and analysis show the state had inadequate options for those who face a variety of mental crisis, according to a press release from Braun's office.

The proposed legislation authorizes up to $500 million in general obligation state bonds to pay for capital improvements that will increase behavioral health services in communities.

The funds could be used for treatment options that include evaluation and treatment centers, detoxification centers, crisis and stabilization centers, transitional housing or other options.

The measure would be subject to a vote in the November general election.

"Treating people with mental illness in their community keeps them closer to their family and improves long-term outcomes," Braun, R-Centralia, who serves as ranking minority member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said. "It's critical that we provide the facilities to deliver a variety of evidence-based services throughout our state. Combining one of the lowest national rates of available treatment facilities with some of the highest need is a recipe for the crisis we see today."

The state has taken steps to invest an additional $50 million over the last four years in community treatment facilities through the previous two capital budgets.

"We have a crisis in mental health in this state. We are under court order to improve the system in a variety of ways, and this includes expanding the entire range of facilities," Frockt, D-Seattle, said. "This bill would create a transformational funding plan over many years to address these dire needs. This measure ensures that people suffering from mental illness can be treated close to home, keeping them connected to the support systems that they'll rely on as they recover."

A report by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy in 2015 showed the state ranked 49th out of 50 states for the availability of psychiatric beds.

The report also highlighted that Washington ranks in the top three states in adult prevalence of mental illness and serious mental illness, stated the release.

"While we've made progress in recent years, it's clear that the scale of problems demands a more widespread and flexible approach," Braun said.

The bonds would allow the Legislature to appropriate the money raised from the Community Behavioral Bond Account, a dedicated fund created in the bill.

The capacity could be expanded depending on what type of facilities the future Legislature chooses to invest in. There will also be match or grant funds available for individual projects.

"I am looking forward to working with Sen. Braun and the bipartisan group that is sponsoring this measure," Frockt said. "As the new Democratic chair of the capital budget, I plan to schedule hearings for this bill once we have passed a capital budget. Addressing this crisis is one of my top priorities. Good ideas know no party, and it's time for both parties to come together to address these long neglected needs."

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(c)2018 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.)

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