An overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House passed Senate Bill 5720 on a 95-2 vote Thursday, reforming Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act to put medical care first when people with behavioral health problems pose a danger to themselves or others.
“The bill updates civil commitment procedures and removes barriers to people getting the help they need,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), the bill’s sponsor. “It prioritizes patient assessment and aftercare.”
The most important change that the bill makes is to extend the initial involuntary hold period to five days. Currently, someone who presents a danger to themselves or others may be involuntarily committed for behavioral health treatment for an initial 72-hour period before a court hearing must be held. However, detox and a comprehensive medical evaluation typically take between three and five days.
Since medical professionals need more than 72 hours for a thorough evaluation, many holds for civil commitment are currently granted extensions in court. The legal proceedings for those extension agreements incur significant costs for the state — money that could otherwise pay for treatment.
Including these extensions, the average number of days a person is detained in Washington state is currently eight. Many states, including Oregon, already have a five-day hold period. This change allows for a full medical evaluation before determining whether a hold needs to be extended.
This bill also undertakes a comprehensive cleanup of the adult and juvenile statutes to coordinate the two effectively. It clarifies terminology, including replacing “mental health” and “substance use disorder” with “behavioral health,” to ensure that people who are seeking crisis services are not put on one track or the other, but are treated holistically under the behavioral health model.
Finally, the bill ensures that people who do not meet the criteria for civil commitment may be discharged at any time by a hospital.
Having been amended by the House, the bill contains differences that must be reconciled by both chambers before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.