January 14, 2011

"Poison pill" bill allowing DSHS secretary to close all state institutions introduced

A bill requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire taking away the legal status of all state DSHS juvenile rehabilitation institutions, residential habilitation centers and mental health hospitals was introduced Friday.

Senate Bill 5132, sponsored by Senate President Pro-Tem Sen. Margarita Prentice, would go beyond current administration attempts to close Maple Lane School in JRA and Frances Haddon Morgan Center and Yakima Valley School.

SB 5132 takes away the statutory authority for those plus: the other residential habilitation centers, Lakeland Village, Rainier School and Fircrest School; the other juvenile rehabilitation facilities, Green Hill School, Naselle Youth Camp and Echo Glen Children’s Center; and the three state mental health institutions, Eastern State Hospital, Western State Hospital and the Child Study and Treatment Center.

SB 5132 does have one provision aimed specifically at the Morgan Center. That’s the provision restricting RHC residents to those 21 and older.

This is a “poison pill” bill that could wipe out these vital services for thousands of vulnerable children, youths and adults. Without statutory protections, it’s easy for a governor and DSHS to close institutions. Just look at the tragedy in Corrections when Pine Lodge Corrections for Women and Ahtanum View Corrections Center closed last year. They had no statutory language authorizing them, so the governor and DSHS, not the Legislature, ordered them closed.

This poison pill institutions closure bill has been tried before in many forms, most recently in 2003 and 2007, where legislation hit a brick wall of AFSCME green in one House committee and died, but did pass the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

This latest bill, SB 5132, has been assigned to that same Senate committee, whose chair is still Sen. Jim Hargrove.

No hearing has been set in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

But we can’t wait to mobilize. The political landscape is much different than in 2003 and 2007.


1.    Call the Legislature’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Tell your legislators to oppose SB 5132, the institutions closure bill. It goes too far and throws the most vulnerable under the bus.

2.    Tell your co-workers, family and neighbors. Get them geared up to attend any public hearings on SB 5132. And when it is scheduled, tell them to contact legislators to oppose it. The scope of this bill impacts everyone in the state. We all need the safety net and when it’s not there it’s not there for all 4 million Washingtonians.

3.    Stay tuned here on the hotline and Federation website (www.wfse.org) for updates.

No comments: