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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee Proposes Overhaul Of State Mental Health System

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announces a proposal to downsize Western and Eastern State Hospitals and move civilly committed mentally ill patients into the community.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to make sweeping changes to the state’s mental health system. The Democrat Wednesday proposed a six-year plan to downsize the state’s two mental hospitals.

Washington is an outlier when it comes to mental health. Western and Eastern State Hospitals still serve patients who are not part of the criminal justice system. Inslee wants to move these so-called civil commitment patients out of the state hospitals and into the community.

That would cost $99.6 million for 350 new beds. Separately, he wants add new acute care beds.

“So we will pursue a combination of state-run and private-run placement options,” Inslee said. “We’re going to build, intend to build, nine new 16-bed state-operated community behavioral health hospitals over the next six years.”

The mental health overhaul is part of Inslee’s broader $46.4 billion spending proposal for the next two years.

In order to fund increased spending in mental health and K-12, Inslee’s top two priorities, he has proposed a two-year, $4.4 billion tax package that includes a new tax on carbon and capital gains.

State Sen. John Braun, the Republican chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement that Inslee’s tax proposal would “hurt job growth and fail to provide the stable and dependable revenues our public schools need.”

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."