Sen. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), and Rep. Julia Reed (D-Seattle), all voted today to pass an amended version of SB 5536, legislation to address substance use disorder by increasing the availability of treatment.

Berry and Reed both voted against the conference committee version of SB 5536 that was considered by the House on the final day of the regular legislative session, and Frame would have voted against that version of the bill had it been considered by the Senate. All three members agreed that the final version of the bill passed today was a meaningful improvement over what was proposed by the conference committee.

Changes that helped win their support for the bill included:

  • $63 million in investments in treatment, public defense, housing shelters and vouchers, and diversion out of the criminal legal system into treatment.
  • Lower sentences for the first two cases of drug possession, with a limit of 180 days in jail, as opposed to 364 days in the previous version, capping financial penalties at $1,000, and no mandatory minimum jail time.
  • Pathways to dismiss charges and vacate sentences by going through drug treatment.
  • Making it easier for the Department of Health to site opioid treatment facilities in communities where they are most needed
  • Support for harm reduction and treatment programs and facilities.

Frame, Berry, and Reed issued the following joint statement on their votes for the bill:

“Every bill is a work of compromise, and this is a real step forward from where the Legislature was at the end of the regular session. Hard work and advocacy over the past few weeks helped make sure many of our concerns were addressed in this final version, and the bill moved in a progressive direction focused on treatment so we could get to ‘yes.’

“This bill prevents a patchwork of laws that would lead to confusion and discriminatory outcomes, especially for low-income people and people of color. It creates a statewide policy that focuses on building an effective system for outreach, treatment, and recovery. Lastly, this bill limits local jurisdictions from creating criminal penalties for having drug paraphernalia, which further protects our community from the criminal justice system.

“While we are a ‘yes’ today, we very much see this as a ‘yes, and’ vote. This bill is a step forward toward what our communities need, but it is not the end of the process. We need to continue to take action to expand access to harm reduction services, fund robust treatment options, and provide housing, education, jobs, and healing to communities – all things that will create real and lasting safety for everyone in Washington.”

All three members expect the Legislature will continue to refine Washington’s drug possession laws in the 2024 regular session to continue to improve access to harm reduction and treatment for people affected by substance use disorder.