WA Legislature Adjourns With No Drug Possession Law In Place
Washington has no new statewide law dealing with drug possession after the House rejected a compromise Sunday.
The legislature adjourned for the year after 15 Democrats joined all Republicans to reject the proposal, which included a gross misdemeanor penalty for possession.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane says the bill had the elements needed to be an effective law.
"The proposal that ended up on the floor tonight of the House was a penalty with a gross misdemeanor, and treatment focused with diversion programs," said Billig. "And that bill failed. And that's disappointing, because I think a statewide solution is definitely the right way to go."
Billig didn't rule out a special session being called after Governor Inslee said he wants a new law on the books by July 1st.
“I hope the successes of this session aren’t overshadowed by the way tonight ended with the failure of the Blake bill in the House," said Inslee in an address after the legislature adjourned for the year. "But what happened tonight was unacceptable. Decriminalization is not an option for me and it is not an option for the state of Washington. I expect legislators to deliver a solution.”
The failure of the legislature to act could leave enforcement of drug possession violations in the hands of cities and counties.
The state Supreme Court struck down an existing law in 2021 that made possession a felony. It’s known as the "Blake" decision. Lawmakers then reinstated a misdemeanor penalty, which expires on July 1st.
The version of the bill debated in the House Sunday evening was seen as the most viable compromise to enact a new law.
But during floor debate, some Democrats opposed the stiffer penalty, while Republicans did not think it went far enough in holding offenders accountable.
Four Snohomish County mayors released a statement Sunday urging lawmakers to reject the bill and instead let cities and counties impose their own penalties. The mayors said the bill's language for diversion programs wasn't strong enough.
Ranking Republican Gina Mosbrucker on the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee said the bill fell short in calling for treatment for drug offenders.
"I would argue after reading this bill over and over and over that it actually sets many people suffering from addiction on the path of failure."
The bill being considered Sunday was passed by the Senate in a bipartisan vote of 28-21 in March and carried a gross misdemeanor penalty. That version was rejected in the House Sunday by a 43-55 margin. The House earlier in April amended the Senate version to reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor charge.
The legislature also passed an operating budget Sunday before adjourning.
Senator Billig called the approval in his chamber historic.
"I think when you look at our budget, this is a bipartisan budget," Billig said. "It's really historic that eight Republicans and all of the Democrats voted for our final compromise conference report budget.
The 70-billion-dollar budget passed without GOP support in the House, where Republican Budget Leader Drew Stokesbary objected to the lack of any tax breaks.
"Washington remains one of the only states in the country that has not found a way to give the people of Washington broad based tax relief."
The legislature adjourned for the year, although Governor Inslee said he may call a special session before July 1st if lawmakers can reach agreement on a drug possession bill.