Saturday, February 21, 2015


Note: this bill has been going quickly through the legislature so the beginning of this post will focus on the house bill but since that has passed I changed the title to the senate bill.

Trigger Warning: institutionalization, mentions of abuse, police brutality, and attempted murder. 

HB 1258 is a bill “concerning court review of detention decisions under the involuntary treatment act.” According to what is basically the TL;DR of the Washington State Legislature it

“Allows an immediate family member, guardian, or conservator of a person to petition the superior court for review of a designated mental health professional's decision, if the designated mental health professional decides not to detain a person for evaluation and treatment or forty-eight hours have elapsed since the designated mental health professional received notice of the person and has not taken action to have the person detained. Requires the department of social and health services and each regional support network or agency employing designated mental health professionals to publish information in an easily accessible format describing the process for an immediate family member, guardian, or conservator to petition for court review of a detention decision.” (Bill Digest of HB 1258)

In essence it would give an “immediate family member” (defined by the bill as “a spouse, domestic partner, child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, grandparent, or sibling”) the authority to turn your case from your mental health provider to a judge to review your case to decide whether or not you should be institutionalized for some time. And for a great deal of people, institutionalization is not just simply a negative experience, but highly traumatic.

The bill is supported “as a relatively modest step in the right direction” by the Washington State chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an organization that has raised the ire of mentally ill people across America and the support from a vast amount of neurotypicals. In a recent private message about the bill, the Executive Director of NAMI Washington has told me that she thinks HB 1258 might not have “the intended consequence” if the standards for institutionalization in the "underlying Involuntary Treatment Act standard" are not lowered--specifically from "imminent risk" to "substantial likelihood--" because according to NAMI "the courts will either have to evaluate the decision under the same standard as the [designated mental health professional] or under an even more demanding standard of 'abuse of discretion.'" 

The background of HB 1258 comes from an act of police violence enacted on a 27 year old, bipolar man named Joel Reuter who was murdered by Seattle Police in the summer of 2013. As such, it is most often called “Joel’s Law.” His parents felt that his murder was a result of his “non-compliance” by not voluntarily institutionalizing himself and therefore the law’s unwillingness to, in their words, “get him help” despite the presence of unnecessary police use of force. In 2014, Joel’s parents helped advocate, along with NAMI Washington, for the previous sessions version of the bill, HB 2725, which passed 96-0 with two abstentions/excused. 

From the Capitol Record--the blog of TVW (Washington State's C-Span):
Doug Reuter testified on Monday that he believes the designated mental health professionals are given too much leeway in making commitment decisions. 

“They answer to nobody. The[y] unilaterally decide who gets help and who does not get help,” Reuter said.  All families want is the ability to make an appeal, he said.  “This will not only provide an avenue for family members to have someone else — a judge — look at all the evidence to determine whether they are a danger to themselves or others. And it gives the (designated mental health professional) a chance to review their files all at the same time,” Reuter said. 

Reuter also criticized the fiscal notes from last year, saying the costs are overestimated they assumed ongoing mental health treatment, when the bill only addresses commitment One change in this year’s bill is a provision to give the mental health professional 24 hours to respond to the family’s appeal before the appeal is heard by a judge.

Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, expressed concern over the rights of those who would be detained against their will. “This is a human being, a person who’s interests might be different from their family members,” said Narayan after the morning hearing. [source]

In the current session, it has passed the house unanimously and is currently in the Senate Ways and Means committee under the name SB 5269. 

They have already done a public hearing on it on Wednesday, February 18th. I was in Olympia for a different bill regarding restraint and seclusion two days before and was unaware that I would need to go to Olympia again so I was not present. You can find a taping of it here. The Ways and Means committee is having a meeting about it on the 23rd so it seems like they’re getting prepared to pass the final piece of legislation. 

Here's the issue: this legislation is misguided and dangerous. 

There is an assumption of benevolence attributed to people associated with mentally ill and disabled people in general. Neurodivergent K has talked about how this assumption of benevolence leads to abuse because the idea is "who would hurt a disabled person!" The truth is--a lot. As a recent example, a woman in Spokane slashed her autistic son's throat just three days ago. Thankfully, he is alive and not part of the list of disabled people murdered by their parents or caregivers who are mourned every March 1st in the National Day of Mourning. 

What does this have to do with this legislation? People will use their new powers over their immediate family member as a means of control. A judge, given the background of the law, the stigma associated with mentally ill persons (that we are inherently dangerous), the assumption of benevolence to psychiatric facilities and their immediate family member, and just wanting to make sure they won't be responsible for a murder and/or suicide, they are likely to institutionalize them. In addition, a judge will likely not have the necessary background in mental health to make a good determination. Also, it is very likely that abusive parents of queer kids will use this against them. 

That is a problem. 

And there is another issue: what this legislation seeks to solve--police violence. When we try to solve for police violence we should not be blaming the victim! We should be taking a look at how our police force is systemically hurting/murdering disabled people and disabled people of color. That may not be easy, but is at the very least a solution. 

But I assure you--locking up mentally ill people so they won't be murdered by police is not the solution to this problem. 
On February 27th, I am planning a protest of this legislation at Westlake Center at 6:00pm. We will be using the hashtag #StopSB5269 and #WaLeg (this is the hashtag for the Washington Legislative Session). This is the facebook event page.

More information can be found on this tumblr post that I've been updating for a month or so.

UPDATE: SB 5269 has gone through committee with only one person opposing it. Thank you Senator Hasegawa (D) of the 11th District!

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