E-News: Senate passes long-awaited ‘fix’ to drug-possession law

March 4, 2023

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

We spent all this week on the “floor” of the Senate chamber, working until very late last night on legislation that not only came through the policy and fiscal committees. It was a good week for the bills I’ve prime-sponsored: four made it through the Senate since Tuesday!

I’ll run through those below, then cover three of the more significant bills to also receive Senate approval this week. Spoiler alert: I supported only one of those three, and one is a particularly troubling measure I haven’t mentioned in a report yet this year.


town hall
  • Exposure to fentanyl (Senate Bill 5010): Passed unanimously on Wednesday, this would expand how the crime of “endangerment with a controlled substance” is defined. I’ve been told 25 children died due to fentanyl overdoses in 2021, and double that in 2022. Several babies in Clark County have basically overdosed from exposure to fentanyl yet survived. Yet for some reason, fentanyl and synthetic opioids haven’t been on the list of controlled substances mentioned in the endangerment law. My bill would fix that, by “prohibiting knowing or intentional exposure of a dependent adult or dependent child to fentanyl, synthetic opioids, or the smoke created from a substance containing fentanyl or synthetic opioids.”
  • Diagnostic imaging (SB 5396): This passed unanimously on Tuesday, the day before the Senate also gave unanimous support to my resolution about Triple Negative Breast Cancer (the post on my Senate Facebook page about that is here). I’m living proof of the value of detecting breast cancer early, and the importance of following up on a mammogram. I worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation on this legislation, which is about eliminating financial barriers for commercial insurance patients who require medically necessary diagnostic breast imaging.
  • Medicaid accountability (SB 5497) – Passed yesterday afternoon with a 45-3 vote, this stems from a state performance audit made several recommendations to the state Health Care Authority for improving the integrity of its Medicaid program. I’m concerned about that at the state level because the state HCA doesn’t track fraud – it leaves that to the managed care organizations (MCOs), which lack incentive to hunt for fraud if it means a net loss of revenue. I introduced this bill if there are opportunities to stretch Medicaid dollars by eliminating waste and fraud, let’s find them. It was a little surprising that anyone opposed this idea.
  • Homecare aide certification (SB 5278) – Passed unanimously Wednesday, this is meant to identify and overcome the barriers to getting home-care aides trained and certified. We know from a performance audit conducted last year that many who want to become certified home-care aides lose interest and give up because it’s too difficult to access training and testing. This needs to be addressed so our state has the capacity to accommodate the “silver tsunami” of people who are aging and will need in-home care.

Senate passes long-awaited ‘fix’ to drug-possession law
When we were at about this same point in the 2021 session, the state Supreme Court surprised us by tossing out Washington’s felony drug-possession law. It came in the case of State v. Blake, named for a woman who was arrested in Spokane for methamphetamine possession. Her defense was that she didn’t know the drug was in the borrowed blue jeans she was wearing. The case was appealed to the high court, which agreed and found Washington’s felony drug-possession law to be unconstitutional. Someone would have to “knowingly” be in possession, the justices ruled.

The Legislature had to respond, because the court decision had literally decriminalized hard drugs. The easy solution would have been to simply add the word “knowingly” to the law, but majority Democrats went a different direction.

The Blake bill signed by the governor that year went very light on the possession and use of drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. For the past two years, the law only required that first- and second-time offenders be referred to treatment services instead of jail. Whether they actually participated in treatment didn’t matter. Subsequent offenses could be charged only as a misdemeanor, which also offered no incentive to seek treatment. Imagine how many lives were destroyed by this lax approach, and how that has exacerbated the homelessness crisis in our state.

I was among the bipartisan majority of senators that passed Senate Bill 5536 very late last night (11 p.m.!). It’s very similar to another bill I sponsored, in that it would make possession and use of hard drugs a gross misdemeanor. That should significantly restore the legal leverage that can compel people to seek and complete substance-use treatment.

As amended on the Senate floor before its passage, SB 5536 also carries the added leverage of a minimum sentence and is more detailed about how treatment services would be provided. The priority now is to avoid a repeat of 2021, and make sure this good policy proposal doesn’t get weakened before it reaches the governor.


5078 final passage
According to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Washington now ranks 10th in the nation for what it calls “commonsense gun laws.” If so, why do there seem to be so many more shootings? That suggests the gun laws being passed aren’t getting at the real problem.

Democrat majority is off-target with ‘firearm duty’ bill
Olympia is part of the Seattle television market, and almost every morning that I’m in Olympia it seems the Seattle television channels carry news of another shooting from the night before. These are almost always in the central Puget Sound area, and many have ended someone’s life.

The governor and the attorney general of our state have got it in their heads that the firearm – not the person holding the firearm – is the problem. They jointly requested the legislation filed as SB 5078, which has been given a real mouthful of a name: “The Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act.”

All but one Senate Democrat voted Thursday to move this bill forward. Every Republican was opposed. Click here to view the remarks I made to my fellow senators.

I voted no for a few reasons. I absolutely believe in your right to bear arms being an unalienable right guaranteed by both the U.S. and Washington state constitutions. This bill clearly violates both constitutions. Similar laws in other states have been struck down as unconstitutional already due to the recent Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. Also, this will have no effect on the criminals who use firearms in the course of their crimes. And this is a direct attack on the law-abiding citizen’s ability to obtain firearms due to the unprecedented assault on those that legally supply firearms and supplies.

In a statement after the vote the governor claimed this is about “advancing accountability in the gun industry,” but he knows this bill can’t apply to firearm-industry members in other states. It also can’t prevent Washingtonians from doing business with the firearm industry outside our borders.

If the majority Democrats are serious about reducing this kind of crime, we should, at the very least, be taking action on my bill to increase the penalty for stealing a gun (SB 5049) and the bill I’m co-sponsoring that would increase the penalty for using a gun to commit a crime (SB 5745). Unfortunately, the majority has shown no interest in either.

Bill on ‘protected health care’ is new attack on parental rights
If a teen runs away from home and ends up at a licensed youth shelter, the parents are supposed to get a notification call within 72 hours, preferably sooner. At least then the parents know their child is alive as opposed to being in a hospital or morgue or just plain missing.

Since 2010 there has been one exception to the parental-notification rule: If a child shows signs of parental abuse or harm, the parents don’t get notified, but the state Department of Children, Youth and Families does.

Senate Bill 5599 would create a new exception to the parental-notification requirement. A child aged 13-18 would simply have to arrive at a shelter, and claim to be seeking what the bill calls “protected health services.” It would be reason enough to keep the child’s whereabouts unknown to their parents – the same as if there was a claim of abuse or neglect. That’s just wrong. Can you imagine the strife and turmoil a parent would be forced to endure?

We hear over and over from the other side of the political aisle that a teenage child’s brain is not fully developed. Consider how that affects a child’s capacity to make – without the guidance of loving parents – decisions about gender dysphoria, or gender transitioning, and “protected health care services.” The latter are defined in Washington law as including gender-affirming treatment, which in turn can include surgeries like breast implants and breast reductions. To be clear, SB 5599 would not allow teens to undergo such surgical procedures without parental consent, but that wouldn’t be much consolation to a parent whose child has suddenly gone silent.

As Senate Republican Leader John Braun noted in a statement after the vote, “If it becomes law, this bill would disenfranchise loving parents who deserve to have a say in the care of their teenage children. Children between the ages of 13 and 18 can already access these same health- and mental-health services under Washington law, without their parents’ permission. The only thing SB 5599 would do is cause harm by driving a wedge between vulnerable kids and their parents, at a time when a teen lacks the perception and judgment to make critical life-altering decisions.”

It’s worth noting that when SB 5599 received a hearing before the Senate Human Services Committee on Feb. 6, more than 4,700 people registered their opinion on the bill – and 98% were opposed.

Senator Braun’s full statement is here and certainly worth the entire read. His remarks before the final vote are also informative — click here to view them.


I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.

Yours in service,

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