Letter from Olympia

Senator Hans Zeiger 25th District Letter from Olympia
floor speech

Letter from Olympia

Dear Neighbor,

This has been a busy week at the Capitol. We spent most of our time on the Senate floor debating and voting on bills that passed the House, while the House did the same thing with bills that passed the Senate. As we get closer to the end of session, lawmakers will try to pass new two-year state operating, transportation and capital budgets before the regular session ends on April 28.

Highway 167 Progress

Recently we've heard a lot of discussion on the completion date for State Route 167. The good news is that groundbreaking on this critical freight mobility project in and out of the Port of Tacoma will take place this year. The bad news is that the 167 completion project is a pay-as-you-go arrangement, and it won't be finished until 2031! That's why I am proposing an amendment to Senate Bill 5825 to accelerate the completion of SR 167 three years earlier. I am working with lawmakers across the aisle to accelerate this project and ensure that the highway is completed much sooner. Read more about this project in the Tacoma News Tribune’s editorial.

The Washington State Department of Transportation will hold a hearing for the SR 167 Completion Project at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 13, 2019 at the city of Fife Community Center (2111 54th Ave E.). Click here for more information.

news conference

Click above to watch the Senate Republican Caucus news conference on homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness

Homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness

Recently, I shared with you what I believe the Legislature should be doing to help those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorder, who are also homeless. Here are some additional thoughts on the work that I believe needs to get done this session.

Five things we can do about drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness

Despite many good intentions and an outpouring of public spending, the current approach to homelessness related to drug addiction and mental illness is not working. 

Last year, we spent over $1 billion to tackle homelessness in the Puget Sound region. State and local leaders send money in many directions: nonprofit housing providers, shelters, financial assistance for people experiencing homelessness, and emergency medical treatment when people overdose. Meanwhile, heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids continue to destroy lives all around us.

What can state policymakers do in the remaining weeks of this year’s session to respond to homelessness related to substance use disorder or mental health issues? I believe we urgently need to do five things.

The first is to get more Washingtonians working in the field of drug treatment and mental health. The Legislature and the governor are working in a bipartisan fashion to promote this. An example is the proposed creation of a behavioral health campus within the University of Washington Medical School. Additionally, two bills proposed this year would enhance financial aid for students pursuing careers in behavioral health and create a new reciprocity program to make it easier for people in the behavioral health workforce to get licenses and certifications. 

Second, we need to modernize and reform Western State Hospital to accommodate forensic patients and build strong, integrated, and fully staffed community behavioral health facilities to offer substance-abuse treatment and mental health programs to civil patients throughout the state. We need more mobile crisis units to reach people where they are, and we need to expand the use of medically assisted treatment so that people can get on the path to recovery. We need to do all we can to provide treatment when people need it, wherever they need it.  

Third, we need a guardianship program to improve care for people struggling with drug addiction and mental illness. Such a program would allow individuals to consent to guardianship by a loved one or guardian ad litem, who would have legal authority to establish a treatment plan and even to have the individual detained for intensive treatment.

Fourth, we need well-organized diversion programs to prevent homelessness before it happens. If people can remain stabilized in housing while they are getting treatment, they are more likely to move forward in their recovery.  Pierce County is pioneering a diversion model that could be useful for others in the state. With support from faith-based organizations, the county considers diversion funding for people who enter its homelessness coordinated-entry program. Diversion may include a month’s rent, suit for a job interview, or transportation -- cost-effective interventions that can make a world of difference for a person facing homelessness.

Finally, we need to interrupt the supply chain of illegal drugs by locking up drug dealers and drug runners. We need to provide resources to law enforcement to hunt down criminals who are supplying lethal drugs to our vulnerable neighbors, and where current laws provide inadequate punishment for dealers of newer opioids like fentanyl, we need to approve stronger penalties.  

The Legislature has a real opportunity to address the challenges of drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness this year. The road to recovery is long and hard for the thousands of Washingtonians currently struggling with substance use and behavioral health disorders. But as long as neighbors and legislators are willing to work together, we can make a difference.

Contact Me

As always, I value hearing directly from you. If you would like to contact me, please call, email and again, stop by if you’re in Olympia.

Email: Hans.Zeiger@leg.wa.gov

Phone: (360) 786-7648

Thanks for the privilege of serving as your state senator.

All the best,