Dear friends and neighbors, 

One of the issues many of you share with me as a top concern is improving access to behavioral health services and supporting the workforce that provides this critical care. As a result, this Legislative Session continued our focus on making progress in addressing these important needs. 

As chair of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee, one of the ongoing priorities this year was advancing legislation that removes barriers and improves access to behavioral health services. In addition to advancing policy, I also believe it is important to help encourage discussion of mental health. As a part of that effort, I sponsored and hosted a reception and mental health resolution in Olympia recently.  

A sign of hope 

On Thursday, April 13, behavioral health professionals from across Washington joined me at the Capitol as I introduced a resolution on the Senate floor to celebrate hope for all of us when faced with mental health challenges. This resolution was also to thank all our behavioral health providers who have done tremendous work caring for others, particularly through these most difficult of pandemic years. 

My resolution fell on the 70th anniversary of the casting of Mental Health America’s Bell of Hope. Representatives from the national Mental Health America organization were on hand to present Washington State with a mini-replica of their Bell of Hope, which Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck accepted on behalf of the Senate. 

The Bell of Hope reminds us of the early years of mental health treatments, when asylums restrained patients with iron chains and shackles. It was an inhumane practice that stemmed from a lack of knowledge around behavioral health and proper treatments. But in 1953, those chains and shackles were melted down and recast into a sign of hope: the Mental Health Bell.  

This symbol and my resolution are intended to remind us of how far we have come in understanding and embracing mental health treatments and to provide hope for a better future, for better health, and even better understanding. With all of us working together, we can one day eradicate the lingering stigma around mental health. You can hear my full resolution remarks from the Senate floor here.   

Sen. Annette Cleveland with Mental Health America’s Valerie Sterns and Debbie Plotnick, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Senate Page Sam Schaible

Improvements in behavioral health through policy 

Below are a few of the important bills we passed this year aimed at improving behavioral health in our state:  

  • Senate Bill 5120 creates an alternative to emergency rooms and jails for people with behavioral health needs by creating new certified crisis relief centers.  
  • SB 5189 creates a certification for behavioral health support specialists so we can build a broader workforce of professionals able to address the growing need for services.  
  • SB 5300 allows patients to stay on behavioral health medications that have kept them stable.  
  • SB 5454 (my bill!) helps nurses impacted by the trauma of the pandemic by improving access to workers’ compensation benefits. 
  • House Bill 1069 directs Washington to adopt the Mental Health Counselor compact, which will make it easier for behavioral health specialists who are licensed in other states to come work in our state.  
  • HB 1135 continues implementation of the 988 behavioral health crisis response and suicide prevention system.  
  • HB 1724 helps get qualified behavioral health practitioners into the field as quickly and safely as possible.  

Today is the final day of the legislative session. It has been a productive and very busy 105 days. I am looking forward to returning home from Olympia to begin planning for the 2024 Legislative Session.  Watch for our post-session 49th Legislative District Town Hall coming soon.   

All my best,