Joel’s Law and dealing with lawsuits, disasters, and an increase in child abuse reports

The House Appropriations committee is planning to hear two bills Today, (Jan. 26, 2015):

HB 1258 – Concerning court review of detention decisions under the involuntary treatment act. This is “Joel’s Law,” a bill creating the ability for parents and other family members to provide information to the court in involuntary treatment act cases. The House passed this bill 97-1 last year and it was blocked in the Senate.

The law is named after Joel Reuter, a bright, beloved software programmer who lived on Capitol Hill. When he spun into a severe manic episode of bipolar disorder in 2013, Washington’s fractured mental-health system offered no cushion, despite pleadings from his parents and friends to have him involuntarily hospitalized.

Instead, Joel, believing he was fighting zombies, was killed by Seattle police. He was 28.
Seattle Times Editorial | January 22, 2015

Joel’s Law is a targeted intervention in the mental health system. It will allow parents and family members to provide input to a judge making the final decision to commit someone involuntarily. Parents often have the most information about the situation, enabling the judge to make a more informed decision. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of parents who watch children drift in an out of severe mental illness, getting worse at every turn. We’re better than this, or at least we should be.

HB 1105 – Making 2015 supplemental operating appropriations. This is a super-early, super-small supplemental budget responding to lawsuits, child abuse caseload increases, and natural disasters (Oso and the big fire season.) Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) and I are jointly introducing the proposed bill, and I expect it to get significant bipartisan support.

The state lost a lawsuit ten years ago on how the homecare system for low-income seniors and the disabled is paid for. It finally made its way through the Supreme Court and the state lost. We’re paying tens of thousands a day in interest on the judgment and I’d like to get it paid off.

Last summer the state Supreme Court said that we can no longer keep patients waiting in emergency rooms because we don’t have capacity in our mental health system to evaluate and treat them. In many cases these folks are shackled to gurneys in hallways. Even in more humane cases they’re not getting the treatment they need and often get significantly worse waiting for a space.

We expect to lose a third case when a federal district court judge makes a decision in March and we are therefore taking corrective action now. This is similar to the emergency room case above, but occurs when local police arrest someone and ask for a mental health evaluation to see if the person is competent to stand trial. The law says we can’t keep them for more than 7 days in jail without an evaluation and a room at the state mental hospital. In many cases we’re keeping them in solitary confinement in county and city jails for months. People without mental issues are badly affected by solitary confinement, and for the mentally ill it’s torture and they just get worse.

Again, the Seattle Times (or at least editorial writer Jonathan Martin) is unsparing in their disdain here:

The $90 million cut from the state’s mental health system from 2009 to 2013 directly led to a state Supreme Court’s ruling in August banning very sick patients from being warehoused in hospitals, and probably will lead to a similar ruling next year regarding a lack of treatment in jails. A wavering financial commitment to court-ordered foster care reforms in the same era resulted in an extension of court oversight.
Seattle Times | November 14, 2014

With this supplemental budget we create more space at the mental hospitals, more treatment slots outside the hospitals, raise compensation for psychiatrists so we can actually hire some, and a bunch of other items that fix problems with the system. It’s not everything we need to do to have the system be functional, but it’s a step towards repairing the damage we did during the recession.

I expect the bills to both pass out of committee on Wednesday relatively unchanged and to pass out of the House either Thursday or Monday. I hope the Senate will give both serious consideration.

Posted in Budget, Health Care, Public Safety, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mental Health, Child Abuse, Disasters, Lawsuits…

OLYMPIA – The House Appropriations committee will have a public hearing on Monday, January 26 to discuss an early action supplemental operating budget proposal. The bill deals with a small handful of items that need immediate attention. The committee expects to adopt a more typical supplemental budget later in the session.
Issues addressed in the bill are limited to the following:

  • Mental health: More mental health treatment capacity is created to resolve the emergency room boarding lawsuit and an expected court order requiring more evaluation and treatment capacity to take pressure off local jails.
  • Natural disasters: Eastern Washington wildfires, the Oso landslide, and other natural disasters had a larger impact on the state budget than what was originally allocated.
  • Homecare shared living lawsuit: The state lost a lawsuit with in-home care workers in the spring of last year. Interest on the judgment is accruing at $20,000 a day. This bill appropriates the money to pay the debt.
  • Children services: Child abuse caseloads have been significantly larger than expected and funds are allocated to help resolve cases as quickly as possible.

Statement from Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina):

“It’s a little unusual to do a supplemental budget this early in a legislative session, but last year was an unusual year. The wildfires and Oso landslide took a large toll on our budget. We also need to pay our legal bills and to address critical funding shortages in mental health and foster care services. I’m pleased that we have come to agreement on these issues this early in session.”

Statement from Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger):

“Addressing these costs early on in the session will save the taxpayers money and will get relief to the people who have been harmed by the Oso landslide and the wildfires. This is a constructive beginning as we work towards the creation and implementation of the next two-year operating budget in a timely manner. I’m optimistic that this budget will receive thoughtful consideration from the Senate.”


For interviews or more information:
Rep. Ross Hunter, 360-786-7936 or
Rep. Bruce Chandler, 360-786-7960 or

Staff (Hunter): Andy McVicar, 360-786-7215 or
Staff (Chandler): Brendon Wold, 360-786-7698 or
Print-quality photos:
Credit: Washington State LSS

Posted in Budget, Health Care | 1 Comment

State budget battles and Cougar culture in Seattle at Civic Cocktail, Feb. 4


SEATTLE CHANNEL FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 22, 2015 Contact: Lori Patrick, Seattle Channel Communications (206) 733-9764,

State budget battles and Cougar culture in Seattle at Civic Cocktail, Feb. 4 WSU President Elson Floyd and state legislators Ross Hunter and Steve Litzow join the conversation

SEATTLE –A contentious state legislative session and a conversation about higher education with Washington State University President Elson Floyd are on the bill for Civic Cocktail, 5:30 p.m., Wed., Feb. 4 at the Palace Ballroom, 2100 Fifth Ave.

From meeting the McCleary mandate to opening the state’s second publicly-funded medical school, education will lead the discussion at the first Civic Cocktail event of the year.

The first half of the program will feature State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48th) and Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41st) discussing issues the divided Legislature in Olympia will tackle this session, including meeting a State Supreme Court mandate to fund K-12 education, making sense of medical-marijuana laws, and moving forward with a state transportation funding package. And what about the stalled Seattle tunnel project, which has led to tensions between state and city officials?

Hunter is chair of the House Appropriations Committee (responsible for the state budget). Litzow chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

During the second half of the program, Floyd will join host Joni Balter to talk about the role of WSU in helping to solve the critical problems that face our state, nation and world and the research university’s legislative priorities, which include building a new academic center at Everett University Center, which WSU assumed management of last summer. WSU recently announced its support of a state measure that would direct new revenue to education, including early learning and higher education and is exploring a partnership with Bellevue College to offer a bachelor’s degree at the Eastside college. Floyd will also discuss WSU’s plans to open the state’s second fully accredited, publicly-funded medical school in Spokane to address the state’s physician shortage, particularly in underserved rural areas.

A journalist panel, including Essex Porter who covers government and politics for KIRO TV and Crosscut’s Managing Editor Berit Anderson, will weigh in on the discussions.

Civic Cocktail offers an evening of networking, civic conversation, Tom Douglas appetizers and a no-host bar. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The program begins at 6 p.m. Advance registration is recommended as these events sometimes sell out. Register at or call 206-682-7395. Advance ticket prices are $20 for CityClub and Crosscut members and $25 for non-members and at the door.

Seattle Channel presents Civic Cocktail in partnership with Seattle CityClub and Crosscut. The conversation is rebroadcast on Seattle Channel cable 21 and is available online at

Seattle Channel is a local TV station that reflects, informs and inspires the community it serves. Seattle Channel presents programs on cable television – channel 21 on Comcast (321 HD) and Wave (721 HD) – and via the Internet to help residents connect with their city. Programming includes series and special features highlighting the diverse civic and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest’s premier city.

Posted in Budget, Education, Transportation | Comments Off

Nobody is going to be able to ram anything down anyone else’s throat…

I get a small cameo on the Seattle Channel Legislative preview show. I’m in the first 30 seconds, and all I get to say is “Nobody is going to be able to ram anything down anyone else’s throat.” This is in the context of host Brian Callanan talking about the split control of the Legislature. Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess gets a better quote “They have a tough job in Olympia this year.” He says it with a deeply sincere expression that makes it look like he really is sorry for us.

Both of us are right – we DO have a tough job this year and nobody will get to ram anything down anyone else’s throat. That doesn’t mean people won’t try. I’ll try to report on the theater as we go through the session.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Great Town Hall meeting last weekend

Rep-Elect Joan McBride, Sen-Elect Cyrus Habib and I had a great, if lightly attended town hall meeting last week at Redmond City Hall. We’ll do more of these, and I’ll get my email notification system working more effectively by then. I think there is one schedule in late February.


The Reporter papers covered it, if somewhat desultorily. Mostly we talked about the budget, but also some education policy issues, transportation, and mental health came up a lot.

We’re also looking at doing some telephone ton hall meetings, which people seem to like, and looking into how we could do regular “office hours” on the web. Any suggestions for how we do this technologically would be great. Send us tech suggestions in email. GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Lync…?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Washington reserves becoming healthy again

The Pew Charitable Trusts devotes significant resources to assessing the fiscal health of the states. They do (mostly) great work, and the information they provide is a great comparison of how different states approach managing their finances. It’s something we look at regularly.

Reserve funding chartAs you can see Washington was slightly above the national median at the beginning of the century, then dropped below due to Initiative 728, the tech boom crash, and one of the Eyman measures that lowered taxes since we had such a “large reserve.”

We used the reserves during the great recession, and have been building them up since I became Appropriations chair. (This may be a big of hubris – we also passed a constitutional amendment protecting the fund at the beginning of this period.) The article on the Pew Website talks about how different situations in different states may affect appropriate reserve levels, which is very true. Many other states look like us, but some look like a crime scene. Illinois, for example, seems to moving asymptotically towards zero. Oregon was more than a month below zero for a while early in the aughts.

Current planning numbers have the reserve doubling over the next biennium to just under a billion. There are reasonable limits to how much you should save, but having a substantial reserve allows us to deal with normal volatility in the revenue system without making random cuts in programs or tax increases to deal with blips in revenue.

Other measures have to be considered when you are trying to assess the fiscal health of a state – Washington is in the top 5 for responsible funding levels for its pension system, a key indicator.

Posted in Budget, Tax Policy, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Lawmakers seek community input on state budget

Posted on January 5, 2015
Rep. Ross Hunter

How would you solve Washington state’s $4.4 billion budget problem?

That’s the central question Senator-elect Cyrus Habib (D-Kirkland) and Representative Ross Hunter (D-Medina) will be asking their constituents at a town hall meeting this Saturday, 10 a.m. at Redmond City Hall. Representative-elect Joan McBride (D-Kirkland) will also be participating in the discussion.

The eastside lawmakers want to hear from 48th district residents on what issues are important to them. They will provide a brief overview of the challenges and opportunities facing the state in the upcoming legislative session at the town hall.

“As I move from the State House of Representatives to the State Senate, I am keenly aware of the challenges before the Legislature: the need to address income inequality, the opportunity gap in education, and climate change,” said Habib who was recently selected to join Leadership of the Senate Democrats. “I look forward to discussing these and other issues with my Eastside constituents on Saturday.”

“We’re facing a large budget problem this session,” said Hunter, the chair of the committee responsible for writing the state budget in the House. “In addition to the constitutional education funding problem pointed out in the McCleary decision, the voters approved an expensive initiative lowering class sizes. Representative-elect McBride, Senator Habib and I are looking for feedback from constituents on the right mix of new revenue and program reductions in other areas necessary to fund these obligations.”

The 105-day legislative session convenes on January 12.

48th Legislative District Town Hall
Redmond City Hall
15670 NE 85th St.
10 a.m. – noon
Saturday, January 10, 2015

Posted in Budget, Business Climate, Education, Environment, Health Care, Public Safety, Social Justice, Tax Policy, Transportation | Comments Off

Expensive Cloud, Silver Lining…

Mike Siegal | Seattle Times March 25, 2012

One of the key responsibilities for the state is running the prison system. Overall we spend about $1.5 billion on the entire corrections system, including medical care for inmates. The US Constitution requires that inmates receive healthcare that meets the same standards as is available to the rest of the community.

Two new drugs have recently become available for treating Hepatitis C, an infectious disease that affects up to 20% of the prison population. The drugs are a miracle – and may save lots of money in the long run by avoiding the liver damage that comes from Hepatitis C. Of course, there’s a “but” to this silver lining. As you can see in this NPR story, it can cost up to $150,000 for a course of treatment for a single patient.

Our estimate for the cost to the Washington corrections system over the next three years is about $210 million, plus about $20 million a year out into the future. Wow. Not a place I’m excited about spending money, but a clear constitutional requirement and an opportunity to have a huge positive impact on the health status of a troubled population.

Posted in Budget, Public Safety | Comments Off

Dire Future for State Budgets?

Graph showing state and local health care costs vs. payroll costs over timeThe Washington Post has an article today (or some recent day – I only read online) about the long-term pressures faced by state and local governments.  The article compares growth in key revenue sources with growth in costs and projects a dire future. The title is “GAO: Without draconian cuts, states face decades-long fiscal crisis“.

Key concerns they have include

  • The sales tax continues to decline as a fraction of GDP. This means that over time people buy less stuff (as a percentage of their income) that is taxed.
  • Tax revenue in general will not return to pre-recession levels, as a percentage of GDP, until 2058.
  • State and local healthcare costs for employees and retirees, as well as Medicaid costs, will grow from 3.9% of GDP to 7.4% of GDP by 2060.

Continue reading

Posted in Budget, Education, Health Care, Tax Policy | 2 Comments

Rep. Hunter reelected to chair House Appropriations Committee

December 11, 2014

Olympia - Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina will again head the key budget-writing efforts of the majority House Democrats in the 2015 Legislature, serving as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee is responsible for writing the two-year state operating budget, which pays for general government expenditures like teacher salaries, health care services, prison operations, and the higher education system. It also handles global fiscal issues such as pension policy as well as bills with significant fiscal impacts.

“We have a difficult challenge ahead of us,” said Hunter. “Education funding will be our top priority this session, but it’s not our only obligation. We have other responsibilities to communities like mental health, seniors and low-income families, and foster kids that we cannot put off any longer. We need to ensure that we deal responsibly with long-term obligations like pensions and bond payments, and we need to invest in efficiency improvements in our IT infrastructure.

“An all-cuts budget like the ones we passed the last three cycles will not lead to a more prosperous Washington. I look forward to working with the other members of the House, Senator Hill, and Governor Inslee to find bipartisan, fiscally responsible solutions to our budget challenges that preserve our values and ensure all Washingtonians have opportunities to succeed.”

The 105-day 2015 session of the Legislature opens January 12 in Olympia.

For more information
Rep. Ross Hunter, 360-786-7936,
Staff: Andy McVicar, 360-786-7215, Continue reading

Posted in Budget | Comments Off