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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two Washington bills would get mentally ill help quicker

By Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Seeking treatment for Washington’s mentally ill may soon become easier.

The House Appropriations Committee passed two bills Friday that could involve mental health experts more quickly when friends, family or law enforcement have concerns about an individual. Both are aimed at preventing mental illness-related tragedies.

The proposed Sheena and Chris Henderson’s Law is named for the couple killed in last summer’s murder-suicide at Deaconess Hospital. Sheena Henderson was working at the hospital when her mentally ill husband, Chris, shot her and himself. Sheriff’s deputies had evaluated him as a suicide risk less than 24 hours earlier.

“We hope that this is a meaningful tool that prevents such tragedies in the future,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane.

The bill would enable law enforcement officers to alert mental health experts after reports of attempted or suspected suicide. Even if a person doesn’t meet the criteria for placement in protective custody, officers could mention concerns in their incident reports.

Agencies would have 48 hours to send those reports to a designated health care facility. Officers also would be allowed to contact the facility directly to request a mental health assessment. The facility would have 12 hours to attempt to contact the individual causing concerns.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and similar legislation is pending in the Senate. The state would pay local agencies $926,000 per year to implement the notification system.

Joel’s Law is named for Joel Reuter, a severely mentally ill Seattle man who was shot and killed in 2013 during a standoff with police. His parents had tried for weeks to have him committed.

The bill would enable friends and family to petition a court for a person’s involuntary commitment to a mental health care facility. It applies only to people with a documented history of mental illness and at least two involuntary commitments in the past three years.

The Legislature faces state and federal court orders to improve the state’s mental health care system. Both bills could come to a full vote in the House in the coming weeks.

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