May's WAMFT Legislative Update
The 2019 Washington State Legislature convened on January 14th and adjourned on April 28th. 

The House of Representatives was comprised of 57 elected Democrats and 41 elected Republicans. At the beginning of session, the twenty-year Speaker of the House announced his transitional plans to revert to “just a normal legislature doing general legislation.” The jockeying for the position began almost immediately. There are three top contenders, all female. The appointment of the next Speaker will take place in late summer.

The Senate had 28 Democrats and 20 Republicans. There is one swing member who is elected as a Democrat yet caucuses with Republicans and votes along those lines a majority of the time. 

There will be two special House of Representative elections this year in Washington. Both races are in eastern Washington and will not shift party make up in the chamber. As of now, there will be no special elections to be held for Senate seats though that could shift if the Washington Governor advances in the presidential campaign.

As for the session details, the Democratic majorities wasted no time getting to business and making up for lost time. The House introduced 1212 bills while the Senate kept pace with introducing 1066 bill. This was by far one of the busiest sessions for bill drafts and thousands upon thousands of amendments. 

Ultimately, the Washington State Legislature passed a total of 481 bills to the Governor for his review and consideration. The House passed 274 out of their distinct chamber and the Senate, once again, kept pace by passing 214 pieces of legislation. (Seven bills in total were not agreed upon and thus the deviation.) He has till mid-May to sign, veto, or allow to become law without signature.

Olympia began the 2019 legislative session in the best financial position since the Great Recession with a $2.8 billion budget surplus. Democrats passed new taxes that add up just under $6 billion over the next four years. The new taxes support a budget that increases state spending by $8 billion, an increase of 18-percent over current levels. The revenue enhancement includes a 20-percent rate increase on some 40 industries and categories of professional-service providers.
The Legislature’s budget writers had $50.5 billion available for the 2019-21 budget when they arrived in January. The Democrat majority budget spent $52.4 billion.

WAMFT had two high priority bills, both of which are on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature – Senate Bill 5054 and House Bill 1768.
Senate Bill 5054
Senate Bill 5054 Increases the behavioral health workforce by establishing a reciprocity program to increase the portability of behavioral health licenses and certifications. The bill directs:

  • DOH must establish a reciprocity program for psychologists, chemical dependency professionals, mental health counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.
  • DOH must issue a probationary license or certification to any individuals who holds, or has held within the past twelve months, a license or certification in good standing from another state or territory of the United States that has a substantially equivalent or greater scope of practice to the corresponding Washington state license or certification, and has no disciplinary record or disqualifying criminal history.
  • Following the issuance of the probationary license or certification, DOH must determine if any training or education deficiencies exist between the foreign license requirements and Washington State requirements.
  • If a deficiency in the applicant's background exists, DOH must determine whether, considering the experience and capabilities of the applicant, additional training or education is necessary to maintain the probationary license or certification and within a reasonable time transition to full licensure or certification.
  • DOH may place a reasonable time limit on a probationary license or certification and require an applicant to pass a jurisprudential exam when appropriate.
  • DOH must maintain and publish a list of states and territories that it has determined have an equivalent or greater scope of practice, training, and education requirements to the corresponding Washington license or certification.
  • DOH must also explore options for adoption of interstate compacts supporting license portability for psychologists, chemical dependency professionals, mental health counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. Individuals holding a probationary license may only work in a licensed or certified behavioral health service provider.
House Bill 1768
House Bill 1768 is an act relating to modernizing substance use disorder professional practice. The bill sets forth and:
  • Directs Department of Health (DOH) to create a co-occurring disorder specialist enhancement for master's level mental health professionals and social workers which allows them to treat clients for substance use disorders who have a co-occurring mental health disorder.
  • Modifies definitions of likelihood of serious harm and gravely disabled used for the purpose of involuntary commitment for behavioral health treatment.
  • Renames chemical dependency professionals as substance use disorder professionals (SUDPs).
  • Expands options for professionals who may provide supervision towards licensure for applicants for certification as an SUDP or co-occurring disorder specialist.
  • Changes references to the goal of chemical dependency counseling from assisting clients to achieve and maintain abstinence to assisting clients in their recovery.
  • Prohibits DOH from requiring an applicant to be an SUDP or substance use disorder trainee to participate in a voluntary substance abuse monitoring program after the applicant has one year of recovery from a substance use disorder.
  • Prohibits DOH or a facility that cares for vulnerable adults from automatically denying certification or employment as a SUPD based on certain convictions after one year of recovery from a substance use disorder or untreated mental health disorder.
  • Directs DOH to conduct a sunrise review to evaluate the need for creation of a bachelor's level behavioral health professional credential.
All in all, WAMFT had a remarkably successful 2019 legislative session and our legislative team now stands ready to transition to rule-making within the appropriate departments.

If you are wanting to engage and help in these efforts please contact [email protected] and we will connect you!

Anthony Pennant, LMFT
Legislative Committee Chair
206-450-8931 | [email protected] |