Monday, February 11, 2008

The Reputation of a 1,000 years is Determined by the Conduct of One Hour (Japanese proverb)

Why are Ethics in public service important?

According to the Washington State Executive Ethics Board Manual, an ethics law establishes minimum standards of conduct while performing public duties, and seeks to remove doubts concerning violations of public trust and confidence, the impairment of independent judgment, and favoritism in the performance of public duties that can be created by outside or personal interests.

RCW 42.52.900 tells us,"
State officials and employees of government hold a public trust that obligates them, in a special way, to honesty and integrity in fulfilling responsibilities to which they are elected and appointed. Paramount in that trust is the principle that public office, whether elected or appointed, may not be used for personal gain or private advantage.”

Objectivity - Public employees must place the public’s interest before any private interest or outside obligation – choices need to be made on the merits.

· Selflessness - Public employees should not make decisions in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

· Stewardship - Public employees have a duty to conserve public resources and funds against misuse and abuse.

· Transparency - Public employees must practice open and accountable government. They should be as open as possible about their decisions and actions, while protecting truly confidential information.

· Integrity - Public employees should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

In Washington, we hold our state and public employees to high standards. Public employees are expected to abide by a number of ethics laws to ensure that the public trust is not violated. When ethics and/or campaign laws are broken, citizens can file complaints to stop the behavior.

Public employees must practice open and accountable government. They should be as open as possible about their decisions and actions, and protect truly confidential information.
•RCW 42.52.050, Confidential information

How comprehensive is your understanding of the Washington State Ethics Act? If you are interested, you can take the online training test: It's not easy, but taking the test will help readers develop a better understanding of our state ethics laws.

Have a complaint you want to file? Complaint forms can be found here:

Please note that the majority of State and public employees are honest, hardworking employees that work hard to comply with state ethics laws.

But if you encounter a situation that appears to violate the State Ethics Act, but are afraid to file a complaint; complaint forms for the Washington State Executive Ethics Board provide a nondisclosure clause to protect identity if a complaintant believes that disclosure would endanger his or her life, physical safety or property.

Please see language below.

3. "Disclosure. Pursuant to RCW 42.17.310(1)(e), information revealing the identity of persons who file complaints with investigative agencies other than the public disclosure commission, may indicate a desire for disclosure or nondisclosure if the complainant believes that disclosure would endanger his or her life, physical safety or property. Please indicate your desire for disclosure or nondisclosure by checking the appropriate box and initialing.

£ I indicate a desire for nondisclosure because:
£ disclosure would endanger my life
£ disclosure would endanger my physical safety
£ disclosure would endanger my property Initials: ___________

Ultimately, citizens bear the responsibility for monitoring the behavior of elected officials, public officals and public employees.

Ethics Manual can be located at:

Ethics for Washington Board members and commission members:

Friday, February 8, 2008

The First Power of the People is the Initiative

Apparently, our Constitutional Right to Initiative and Referendum interferes with the Legislature's perceived sense of balance regarding competing interests. In other words, state legislators feel that they need to enact legislation to protect themselves from the very citizens that elected them to office.

Never mind that the First Amendment and the Washington State Constitution guarantee citizens the right to petition government through the Initiative and Referendum process. Supporters of HB 2601 claim that this measure is necessary to protect citizens from fraud and bad actors, but a public disclosure request revealed that the Secretary of State did not find any evidence of fraud between 1999 and 2006.

It's frightening to watch HB 2601 move through the House like greased lightning - apparently, the Legislature can't wait to put pesky citizen initiatives and referendums on a shelf for future generations to study as a example of the people's misguided attempts at direct democracy.

In the 1990's Washington State had a law on the books that prevented the use of paid signature gatherers. The Court opined that because no instances of fraud had ever occurred in Washington State, the measure was invalid. Hence, Initiative proponents could hire paid signature gatherers to collect signatures for initiatives and referendum.

HB 2601 requires any individual "paid" (the notion of paid reimbursement appears to potentially include "dinner out" with a initiative proponent) to gather signatures to provide his or her full name and assumed name, if any, residential street address; a signature; a list of the state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petitions on which the registrant will gather signatures; and a signed statement attesting that in the past five years, the registrant has not been convicted of an election related offense, has not been found in violation of election law (This includes Tim Eyman and other individuals who have allegedly violated PDC laws or other alleged election offense) and he or she is not a convicted sex offender.

Isn't it disingenuous for legislators to pass a law that prevents violators of PDC and other election laws from gathering petition signatures when a quick perusal of PDC enforcement actions tell us many legislators have also been found in violation of PDC laws? Why would the legislature hold petition signature gatherers to a higher standard than they hold for themselves?

The Washington State Constitution states that the first power of the people is the Initiative...

Washington State Constitution, Article I

SECTION 1 LEGISLATIVE POWERS, WHERE VESTED. The legislative authority of the state of Washington shall be vested in the legislature, consisting of a senate and house of representatives, which shall be called the legislature of the state of Washington, but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature, and also reserve power, at their own option, to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any bill, act, or law passed by the legislature...

REFERENDUM: The second power reserved by the people is the referendum, and it may be ordered on any act, bill, law, or any part thereof passed by the legislature, except such laws as may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of the state government and its existing public institutions, either by petition signed by the required percentage of the legal voters, or by the legislature as other bills are enacted...

SECTION 34 SAME. The legislature shall pass the necessary laws to carry out the provisions of section thirty-three (33) of this article, and to facilitate its operation and effect without delay: Provided, That the authority hereby conferred upon the legislature shall not be construed to grant to the legislature any exclusive power of lawmaking nor in any way limit the initiative and referendum powers reserved by the people.

Opponents of HB 2601 tell us that Election laws should facilitate the constitutional rights of the citizens; however, this law does not promote the facilitation of the Initiative or referendum process. In fact, it disenfranchises innocent citizens who signed petitions circulated by unregistered signature gatherers.

Supporters of HB 2601 claim that the initiative signature gathering process provides opportunities for identity theft, fraud and even the potential exploitation of petition signers by sex offenders. But they do not provide any examples of alleged violations to support claims of exploitation. Supporters also claim that the notion of being paid to collect signatures somehow "corrupts' the signature gathering process and encourages forgery and other bad behavior. Again, public disclosure requests did not reveal any instances of fraud on petitions. The only documented instances of fraud are with voter ballots.

Never mind that legislators are "paid generously" to write and promote legislation - or that legislators routinely receive large sums of money from lobbyists that represent special interests with legislative agendas that are not always in the best interest of the people legislators represent.

In a July 3, 2004 Seattle P.I. article written by Neil Modie; Modie tells readers, "Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political scientist and an expert on initiatives and referendums, said Eyman seems to have evolved from being "the poster child of ... the grassroots (to being) the poster child for the interests that all the critics have been saying is wrong with the (legislative) process." Isn't that the way the system is supposed to work? Individuals or groups who oppose a bill or law come together to draft a petition (initiative/referendum to modify or repeal the law?

Granted, I understand that many citizens and legislators are opposed to Tim Eyman's tax initiatives, but his grassroots popularity indicates that a large number of citizens are dissatisfied with the legislature's tax and spend policies - and those citizens are using the petition process to introduce, modify or repeal laws that they feel are out of step with the values of society.

In a Initiatives and Referendum Institute paper (see below) titled Expanding Direct Democracy in the US: How Far is Too Far? Donovan cites a 2000 poll that found 78% of the voters in Washington State thought that initiatives were a "good thing." Which raises the question - why is the legislature actively seeking to limit the people's ability to exercise their Constitutional right to introduce or reject bills or laws on the ballot?

Some supporters claim that too many initiatives are "unconstitutional" and can not be legally implemented into statute. Which raises a second question, how many "unconstitutional" laws have been enacted by the Legislature? (A persual of Washington State Supreme Court decisions will help answer this question). Not even the legislature is perfect - but the citizens are not at liberty to ignore laws enacted by the legislature - even if they are unconstitutional. But the legislature has refused more than once to implement laws ratified by the people through the initiative and referendum process.

If the Legislature is sincere about helping to return a fundamental power to the citizens, they should consider deregulation, not over regulation of the initiative process.

Sam Reed, Secretary of State, has a signature verification process that allows the state to verify voter signatures on ballots and petitions. If the legislature has constitutional concerns about a petition, they can challenge the petition in Court.

Finally, the right of Referendum is guaranteed on any bill passed by the legislature except those bills that contain an emergency clause. The purpose of an emergency clause is to allow state government to respond in TRUE public emergencies, like a large scale natural disaster. Nevertheless, over the years the legislature has routinely attached emergency clauses to bills in order to prevent citizens from filing a referendum to repeal legislation. In 2007, Governor Gregoire vetoed the emergency clause off of ten bills before signing them.

Personally, I think its sad that legislators are so far out of step with the people they represent that they feel compelled to pass laws to protect themselves from the very citizens who put them in office.

Full text of HB 2601, bill report and fiscal analysis can be found at:

Additional Information on this topic:

Expanding Direct Democracy in the U.S.: How Far is too Far? Todd Donovan

LWV Direct Democracy Study:

Seattle P.I. article by Niel Modie on Tim Eyman's evolution:

Initiative and Referendum Institute Report on paid signature gatherers:

Initiative and Referendum Institute:

National Conference of State Legislators Powerpoint presentations on the Intitiative process:

Washington Policy Center article by Jason Mercier on restoring our right to referendum:

Washington Policy Center article on ending abuse of the legislative emergency clause:

Evergreen Freedom Foundation home page for Initiatives and Referendum:

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Medical Care for Dangerously Mentally Ill Offenders reduces Crime

SSB 5698 title: An act relating to case management services for dangerous mentally ill offenders (DMIO)

In 1999, the legislature passed a measure that provides services for dangerously ill offenders that provides medical treatment for up to five years after release from prison. The legislation authorized the Department of Social and Health Services to contract with Regional Support Networks (RSN) to provide these services.

(In Support) The purpose of this legislation is to try to get a consistent, systemic approach across RSN systems. Four RSNs contract directly with the Mental Health Division to serve as case managers for these programs. Ten additional counties provide services without RSN oversight.

A recent study conducted by the Washington Institute of Public Policy shows that these programs are effectively reducing recidivism. There has been a 45% reduction in felony offenses and a 38% reduction for new offenses post discharge from prison. The benefit-cost analysis in that report indicated that the reductions in Dangerously Mentally Ill Offender (DMIO) recidivism generated financial benefits to taxpayers that were less than program costs.

(The cost study was based on the records of 114 DMIO participants who were released between
July 1, 2002, and December 31, 2003, and for whom cost data were available. For pre-release
transitional services and two years of post-release services, costs averaged $19,390 per person. Expenditures were highest in the first six months then declined in each successive six-month period).

There is a liability question of liability protections for service providers. The cost to society of not having such programs available across the state is far greater than the cost without the program.

(Opposed) There is no question that this is an effective program. In 2001, the North Sound Regional Support Network (RSN) looked into taking this program. The RSN chose not to because at that time the Washington Governmental Entity Pool insurance company indicated that the RSN would be charged $50,000 per offender for the program. (Keeping an inmate behind bars in Monroe costs taxpayers $36,836 a year, according TO the Washington State Department of Corrections. That figure does not include medical care for mentally ill patients).

Currently the insurance company has indicated a complete unwillingness to cover the RSN if the RSN takes on this program. The North Sound clients are being served by the same providers under the current system. The counties that are currently covering this population are self-insured. The name of the program is unfortunate and should be reconsidered. The liability protections provided by statute are inadequate.

Fiscal Note: no impact

The SSB can be read at:

The Substitute Senate Bill Report is here:

And the Fiscal Note is here:

Fair Campaign Practices Code for Candidates and political committees

There are basic principles of decency, honesty, and fair play that should be observed when a candidate publicly announces that he or she intends to run for public office.

In Washington State, the Public Disclosure Commission has adopted the Fair Campaign Practices Code.

WAC 390-32-010

Pursuant to the provisions of RCW 42.17.370 (1) and (6) the public disclosure commission adopts this Fair Campaign Practices Code: (1) I shall conduct my campaign, and to the extent reasonably possible shall insist that my supporters conduct themselves, in a manner consistent with the best American tradition, discussing the issues and presenting my record and policies with sincerity and candor. (2) I shall uphold the right of every qualified voter to free and equal participation in the election process. (3) I shall not participate in, and I shall condemn, personal vilification, defamation, and other attacks on any opposing candidate or party which I do not believe to be truthful, provable, and relevant to my campaign. (4) I shall not use or authorize, and I shall condemn material relating to my campaign which falsifies, misrepresents, or distorts the facts, including but not limited to malicious or unfounded accusations creating or exploiting doubts as to the morality, patriotism or motivations of any party or candidate. (5) I shall not appeal to, and I shall condemn appeals to, prejudices based on race, creed, sex or national origin. (6) I shall not practice, and I shall condemn practices, which tend to corrupt or undermine the system of free election or which hamper or prevent the free expression of the will of the voters. (7) I shall promptly and publicly repudiate the support of any individual or group which resorts, on behalf of my candidacy or in opposition to that of my opponent(s) to methods in violation of the letter or spirit of this code. (8) I shall refrain from any misuse of the Public Disclosure Law, chapter 42.17 RCW to gain political advantage for myself or any other candidate.[Statutory Authority: RCW 42.17.370(1). 85-22-029 (Order 85-04), § 390-32-010, filed 10/31/85; Order 93, § 390-32-010, filed 8/26/77; Order 64, § 390-32-010, filed 11/25/75; Order 62, § 390-32-010, filed 8/26/75; Order 50, § 390-32-010, filed 3/3/75.]

I propose that we add the following clause to the WAC to make it clear that item (4) also pertains to immediate members of a candidate's family and the candidate's campaign supporters.

(9) I shall not use nor shall I permit the use of scurrilous attacks on any candidate or the
candidate's immediate family. I shall not participate in or nor shall I permit the use of defamation, libel, or slander against any candidate or the candidate's immediate family. I shall not participate in nor shall I permit the use of any other criticism of any candidate or the candidate's immediate family that I do not believe to be truthful, provable, and relevant to my campaign.

A principled leader will not tolerate attacks against members of a candidate's family, or his/her opponent's supporters.

Nor will a principled leader condone the use of Private Investigators or other individuals to follow or harass his/her opponent's supporters or the supporter's children. It may be legal to have someone followed, but it isn't ethical. No matter how you cut it, the act of surveillance is a "legal" form of intimidation designed to prevent individuals and families from volunteering to help the candidate of their choice. Children and other family members of a candidate (and/or a candidate's supporters) have a right to attend work and school without being followed, intimidated or frightened by an individual or a private investigator employed by: 1) a candidate; or, 2) a political PAC or trade organization that is supporting a particular candidate.

I grew up in a politically active family. My mom worked on two presidential campaigns while I was growing up, (with the actual candidate, not just a local party) and was never harrassed, followed or subjected to personal attacks by members of the media or the opposing candidate's campaign supporters.

I hope 2007 was an aberration -- and that 2008 candidates run clean, competitive campaigns like those conducted by most of our 2007 city council and county council candidates.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

GMA Expansion measure passes out of Committee

Title of SHB 2797: An act mitigating the impacts of climate change through the Growth Management Act.

Many local governments including medium size cities are struggling to meet the current standards of the GMA, but despite local testimony against HB 2797, the bill was passed out of the House Local Government Committee last Friday by a vote of 4 to 3. Representative Judy Warnick, (R) Moses Lake was the single dissenting voice.

The House Democratic Caucus has not issued a statement about the bill.

The Growth Management Act (GMA) is the comprehensive land use planning framework for county and city governments in Washington. Initially enacted in 1990, the GMA establishes a number of requirements for local governments that are obligated by mandate or choice to plan under the Act. 29 of the 39 Washington counties and the cities within those counties are planning jurisdictions.

SHB 2797 adds a climate change goal to the planning goals of the GMA. The goal calls for reduced climate change impacts by lessening emissions of greenhouse gases and adapting to the effects of climate change through sustainable energy, transportation planning and land use management practices. The measure is scheduled to take effect on December 31, 2010.

The measure adds a new goal and planning element for climate change under the Growth Management Act (GMA). It will require the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) to: 1) add planning staff for technical guidance; 2) contract with consultants for extensive new rule making; 3) hold statewide workshops for local governments; 4) manage a new pilot program; and 5) report to the governor and legislature on an ongoing basis regarding the effectiveness of this act.

The Department of CTED must provide counties and cities with a range of advisory climate change response methodologies and estimates. The methodologies and estimates must reflect the regional and local variations of planning jurisdictions, and: 1) Identify greenhouse gas emission reductions that various land use and building measures are estimated to produce The developed methodologies must be capable of considering documented benefits of specified land use planning actions; and, 2) identify potential policies, regulatory programs and other measures cities and counties can implement to adapt to the likely adverse effects of global warming.

(In support) “the bill is being revised and will be limited to establishing a new planning goal and requiring CTED to: develop methodologies for measuring emissions; provide compliance advice to local governments; and establish a grant program. This bill is one of the top four legislative priorities of the environmental community. Fossil fuel based transportation is the primary contributor to global warming, and the GMA is the appropriate vehicle for addressing climate change. The Governor’s Climate Advisory Team is planning to use the GMA to address global warming through land use provisions.

Global warming refers to trends in the global average temperature. The problem of rising temperatures is very much a state and local issue. Imported oil and natural gas dependencies are costly and affect national security. National and International solutions are needed, but local action is critical. The Legislature has also been looking into cleaner cars and fuels, but an increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled will offset those gains. Internationally, 780 cities have adopted the Kyoto Protocols, including 29 Washington cities. These Washington cities will have to address climate change, but they lack the tools to do so.

(Those opposed) A diverse group of stakeholders is working on an amendment to this bill. The City of Kennewick is still learning about climate change and needs additional time to develop expertise. Local citizens should be engaged in developing responses to climate change. The addition of a new GMA goal is concerning, as are the implementation costs.

Growth Management Hearings Boards elevate certain goals above others. This bill will create a new cause of friction and the proposed planning goal will create a new source of litigation. Agency guidance documents have become defacto rules. Emission issues are already being litigated under the State Environmental Policy Act.

This legislation has no eastern Washington sponsors. Proposed and enacted legislation continues to reduce the land use authority of local governments. The GMA is intended to provide structure, but state interference has prevented it from realizing its potential. This bill will reach into the private lives of citizens and might frustrate the good intentions of local governments. The requirements of this bill should be changed to guidelines and incentives that could be applied to all jurisdictions.

The Governor established climate change related goals that were codified in 2007. The Governor’s actions also led to the establishment of the Climate Advisory Team, a joint effort that the business community is participating in. The legislative approach contained within the bill is premature: the Climate Advisory Team has not made legislative recommendations for local government responses to climate change. The business community was not consulted in the drafting of the original bill, and is concerned about adding a new goal in the GMA. The business community is willing to look at climate change issues at the local level, but this bill is not the best approach for doing so.”

33 cities and 19 counties will be subject to the climate change planning requirements of SHB 2797. In addition to the 29 cities and three counties with high capacity transportation services would be required to amend their comprehensive plans to provide for developments that serve high capacity transit areas. It is also expected that neighboring jurisdictions tat meet proposed population thresholds defined by this proposal will become subject to the climate change planning mandate.

The core expenditure impacts to the 33 cities and 19 counties subject to this proposal include costs to:
a. Inventory greenhouse gas emissions
b. Develop a Climate Change element of the Comprehensive Plan
c. Develop methods to define and mitigation of anticipated greenhouse gas emissions
d. Implement the Climate Change elements of the Comprehensive Plan
e. Participate in any GMA appeals filed as a result of the Climate Change plan elements
f. Amend comprehensive plans to better link to voter approved high capacity transit areas.

Planning costs will be highly variable and depend on the status of current planning efforts, the guidance adopted by CTED and other factors. Here are some estimates of cost figures for new comprehensive plan elements; conversations with planning staff from other jurisdictions, local government associations, and a brief review of the literature related to climate change and transportation planning.

Estimated direct one time costs for the initial inventory effort
8 counties and 26 cities = 34 jurisdictions *$20,000 = $680,000
11 counties and 7 cities = 18 jurisdictions *$25,000 = $450,000

Total base estimate = $1.13 million to complete inventories

Areas with population of 30,000 to 99,000 -- $50,000 per jurisdiction
Areas with population of 100,000 or more -- $100,000 per jurisdiction

Estimated direct one time costs for the initial planning effort
8 counties and 26 cities = 34 jurisdictions *$50,000 =$1.7 million
11 counties and 7 cities = 18 jurisdictions *$100,000 = $1.8 million

Total base estimate = $3.5 million to complete initial planning.

Based on assumptions in the Office of Financial Management Fiscal Note, it is estimated that the bill will have initial direct expenditure impacts of $4.8 million over several years as a result of the new mandates to complete greenhouse emissions inventories and climate change planning that would be required.

Judy Warnick, Moses Lake, was the lone dissenting voice against the bill.

The entire text of SHB 2797 can be located at:

House Bill Report can be found here:

Fiscal Note:

Global warming management sites:

Priorities for a Healthy Washington site:
Harnessing farms and forests in new low carbon society:

How to control emissions - (heads up Entrepreneurs):

What other nations are doing:

Measuring Global Warming and Greenhouse gases:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mentally ill patients are ill served in USA (Updated)

In an August 2003 article, titled “US notches world's highest incarceration rate,”, the Christian Science Monitor estimated that more than 5.6 million Americans are in prison or have served time there. (That's 1 in 37 adults living in the United States, the highest incarceration level in the world)." Sasha Abramsky, the author of, "Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness, tells us, "There are three times as many men and women with mental illness in U.S. prisons as in mental health hospitals. The rate of mental illness in the prison population is three times higher than in the general population."

Over the last 30 years, we have cut treatment, services and care to the point that we have criminalized mental illness, replacing our hospital treatment system with incarceration, abuse and neglect. Our mentally ill wander the streets with no access to treatment. They are arrested for minor violations and then they are held in jail for extended periods of time with no treatment available even by court order.

Former Whatcom County Sheriff, Senator Dale Brandland, knows first hand how a lack of consistent access to medication and treatment can lead a mentally ill patient back to jail.

In an attempt to protect the mentally ill and society at large, Senator Dale Brandland has introduced two bills to protect mentally ill patients from lapses in medical coverage when they are jailed or hospitalized.

The Democratic Caucus has not issued a statement on this measure.

SB 6584 would require DSHS to suspend, not terminate, medical assistance benefits for any person enrolled in medical assistance who becomes incarcerated in a correctional institution or inmate for mental diseases (IMD).

In a 2004 letter, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services encouraged state medicaid directors to "suspend" and not "terminate" Medicaid services while a person is an inmate of a correctional institution. Federal guidelines allow for public assistance to be provided to persons on home detention, who do not receive food and shelter from a penal institution.

State law provides that a person who is an inmate of a correctional institution or an inmate for mental diseases (IMD) is not eligible for medical assistance.

SUMMARY OF BILL REPORT: “Suspended medical benefits must be reinstated immediately upon the person’s release, without requiring a new application. DSHS may not require an inmate to recertify eligibility for public assistance while he or she is incarcerated, but if the inmate’s recertification date has passed, DSHS may require the inmate to recertify immediately following release. DSHS must provide public assistance benefits to eligible persons on home detention. DSHS must accept and process public assistance applications from jail inmates who do not have an established release date, and from any inmate who is within four months of an established release date. DSHS must extend its expedited medical assistance review program to all inmates who are likely to be eligible for medical assistance benefits, even if the person was not enrolled in public assistance within five years prior to incarceration.”

Why is this important? Today, jails and prisons have become de facto mental health institutions. Sheriffs, corrections professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys and criminal justice advocates agree that this is a function that they are poorly equipped to serve.

A Human Rights Watch report released in 2003, documented that one in five jail inmates and one in six prisoners is mentally ill, and the number of mentally ill in prison exceeds the number of patients in mental health hospitals. Consequently, incarcerated prisoners receive little or no treatment while in jail or prison. The study, “I’ll equipped: US Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness” documented that the mentally ill are punished by prison staff for displaying symptoms of their illness, such as head banging, self mutilation and suicide attempts. Many wind up in solitary confinement where isolation can push them into acute stages of psychosis.

The study concluded that the high rate of incarceration of the mentally ill is a consequence of under funded, disorganized and fragmented community health services. Neither private health care insurance - nor public health care benefits guarantee that those who are mentally ill will receive the health care they need to function in society. Many are poor and homeless, or struggling with substance abuse. If they do commit a crime, they are jailed and lose the limited benefits they had prior to incarceration.

Fiscal Note for SB6584: The Department does not anticipate any fiscal impact with this legislation

SB 6583 would change the definition of “categorically needy” so people who are in custody because of mental diseases would not have to prove 6 continuous months of spending on medical bills to qualify for health coverage.

Under the state medical plan, a citizen may qualify for health coverage under the Medicaid program if that person is "categorically needy," meaning that the person is disabled, blind, or voer 65 years of age and meets income limits. DSHS has ste needy income limits at $637 per month for a single person or $956 for two persons. A disabled person whose income exceeds this amount, but who has medical expenses that effectively reduce his/her income below this level may qualify for medicaid under the "medically needy" program, but only if the person can prove that he/she spent all of his/her "excess income" on medical bills for six months. Persons who are released from a correctional institution or institute for mental diseases are unable to qualify for Medicaid under the "medically needy" program due to the requirement to proving six months worth of medical spending. DSHS may change the income limit for the categorically needy and medically needy Medicaid programs within parameters authorized by the federal government without sacrificing matching funds.

DSHS services must set the categorically needy income limit which determines eligiblity for Medicaid Coverage for citizens who are disabled, blind or over the age of 65, at a level that is at least 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

(In suppport) "This makes it easier for mentally ill inmates to qualify for benefits while they are in prison or hospital. Not having benefits contributes to recidivism. Many organizations support this bill. Without coverage, people put off getting care until they have to go to the emergency room. Prevention is less costly and more effective. Administration costs would be saved by shifting people out of the medically needy program. May thousands of people would be able to access timely medical care due to this legislation. The bill would help older people access dental care. Disabled inmates released from jail can't qualify for spend down during the critical first months following release." (No one testified against the measure).

Fiscal Note:

Granted, this is only the beginning, but let's hope that Senator Brandland's bills recieve the support they need to be enacted by the legislature.

Additional information on this topic can be found at the following links:

"I'll Equipped: US Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness" Report:

Dissident Voice:

Mental illness and the Criminal Justice System:

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Public's Right to Know

Last month, three bills were introduced in the House regarding public access to public records.

HB 2839 – Legislation designed to stop government agencies from suing record requesters to block public disclosure requests.

HB 3231 - seeks to limit the use of attorney-client privilege to block public disclosure requests

HB 3251 - would prevent self insurer's from threatening to cancel a local government's insurance for refusing to comply with a public disclosure request.

The three measures were placed in the House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee.


HB 2839: An Act relating to an agency’s access to superior court for the purposes of the public disclosure act; and amending RCW 42.56.540.

The Public Records Act (PRA) requires agencies to respond to public record requests within five (5) business days. It also requires that all state and local government agencies make all public records available for inspection and copying unless they fall within certain statutory limitations.

Under certain circumstances, agencies have the right to take additional time in order to notify third parties or agencies affected by the request or to determine if the request includes material that is exempt under PRA.

The bill analysis tells us "any person who is denied the opportunity to inspect or examine or copy a public record can file a motion in Superior Court to learn why the agency has refused access to the record. The Court may examine the record in detail in order to establish if the refusal is consistent with the statute that exempts or prohibits disclosure.

An agency or a person who is named in the record, or to whom the record specifically pertains may file a motion asking the Superior Court to enjoin disclosure of the public record. The Court may issue an injunction if it finds that release of the information is clearly not in the public’s interest and would substantially harm a person, or would substantially damage vital government functions.

In Soter v. Cowles Publishing Co. (No. 78574-1) the Court held that agencies, as well as persons named in the record, may seek such judicial determination if the exemption applies and obtain an injunction if applicable. The bill was scheduled a public hearing on January 29, 2008." The opinion can be found here:

The entire measure can be found at:


HB 3231: An Act relating to the public disclosure of records relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party; and amending RCW 42.56.290.

Again, the Public Records Act (PRA) requires all state and local governments to make all public records available for public inspection and copying unless they fall within certain statutory limitations. According to the bill analysis, the provisions requiring public records disclosure must be interpreted liberally and the exemptions narrowly in order to effectuate a general policy favoring disclosure. A denial of public records request must be accompanied by a written statement of the specific reasons for denial.

The bill analysis tells us “any records that are relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party but which records would not be available to another party under the rules of pre-trial discovery for causes pending in Superior Court are exempt from disclosure under the PRA. The Washington State Supreme Court has defined “Controversy” as completed, existing or reasonably anticipated litigation and has recognized this protection is triggered prior to the official initiation of litigation and extends beyond the official termination of litigation.”

Two men, Rowland Thompson, Allied Daily Newspapers of WA, and Andy Cook, of the Building Industry Association testified against allowing a government agency to sue a requester. If an agency is in doubt, Thompson recommended that the agency refuse the public disclosure request and allow the requester to determine if they want to pursue the request in court. “It can be a way to intimidate requesters,” said Cook. The BIA was sued by Pierce County over a public disclosure request for fraudulent voter registration forms.

Committee Summary of Bill: "The current Public Records Act exemption for records relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party but which records would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial discovery is narrowed to apply only in cases of an on-going controversy. In addition, any records created prior to the filing of litigation; or notice of legal claim is subject to disclosure."

The entire measure can be found at:


HB 3251: An Act relating to local goverment self insurance programs; and amending RCW 48.62.011 and 48.62.101.

Local governments have the authority to individually or jointly self insure against risks.

Committee Summary of Bill: "A self-insurance program is not able to define the terms under which an entity complies with the Public Records Act. A self-insurance program is not able to define the terms under which an entity complies with the PRA. A self-insurance program may not cancel or threaten to cancel insurance coverage based on an entities decision, in consultation with its attorneys, to release public records in compliance with the public records act."

The entire measure can be found at:

Fiscal Note is here: