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Op-Ed: Governor’s veto of mental health proviso disappointing and unnecessary

by BY REP. TOM DENT, WASH. 13TH LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT (R - MOSES LAKE)
| May 12, 2022 1:30 AM

Since the pandemic, livelihoods have been devastated, people have fallen behind on their mortgages and rents, students have been left behind in schools, foster kids have fallen deeper into crisis, businesses have been closed, and problems related to homelessness, substance abuse and domestic violence may have intensified. These problems must be addressed in comprehensive ways, but mental health ties to each and every one of them.

Our investments through capital budget funding have increased significantly in recent budgets. However, we need to ensure mental health services are accessible and are operating efficiently and effectively, especially for our youth.

So, this session I introduced House Bill 2053. It would have created a behavioral health workgroup to study the root causes of rising behavioral health issues in Washington communities. While the masks are mostly off and we are getting back to some normalcy in our communities, the mental health issues aren't going away.

I knew it would be difficult to introduce a bill after the session started in a short, 60-day session with a limited timeframe, but it had strong bipartisan support.

When it was not scheduled for a public hearing, I began working to get it into the operating budget as a proviso and I was successful. I commend the majority party budget writers for including it in the final spending plan. While the overall budget was very partisan in nature, they did accept my bill language.

Unfortunately, (Washington Governor Jay Inslee) vetoed my language from the budget stating the proposed funding was insufficient to complete the study.

It is important to point out, the 2022 legislative session was a supplemental budget year. This year’s operating spending plan was passed on party lines and increased spending by $6.1 billion, a massive increase for a supplemental budget. The budget is now almost $65 billion. State spending is $12.5 billion or 24% higher than the 2019-21 levels. Since I took office in 2015 the operating budget spending has almost doubled.

I am very concerned about this trend, as it is simply unsustainable. However, we also need to have our budget priorities in order, specifically mental health.

The budgets passed in recent years are unprecedented in their scope and size, and we just passed another record supplemental spending plan, yet the governor claims there is not enough money to take a deeper look into the mental health issues in our communities. It comes down to priorities. The veto was disappointing and unnecessary.

Mental and behavioral health are affecting many aspects of our communities, including the agricultural industry which has the highest suicide rate of any sector in our country, and it has been exacerbated by the pandemic shutdowns.

This is not a partisan issue. We have worked closely with Democrats on this issue and there has been a lot of agreement in the (state) Legislature.

We can set policy and appropriate funds. But it’s up to the executive branch to help us implement and execute these policies. That’s where we’ve seen the greatest failures in our mental health system. This is demonstrated by the governor’s veto.

It is likely most of us know someone affected by a mental health issue. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide appropriate resources for vital mental health services to support our youth, support effective community policing efforts, address the homelessness crisis and much more. However, it is critical we have support from the executive branch. Mental health issues are not going away any time soon.

Tom Dent represents the 13th Legislative District and is serving his fourth term in the Washington State House of Representatives. He is the ranking Republican on the House Children, Youth and Families Committee, assistant ranking Republican on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and serves on the House Transportation Committee.

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