Inslee calls special session of Legislature to pass drug possession law

Senate Republican leader says no agreement reached yet with Democrats; session to start May 16

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, May 2 that he will call a special session of the state Legislature to begin May 16 in Olympia.

The session will focus on passing a new drug possession law. Inslee set the date after conversations with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, according to an Inslee news release.

“My office and I have been meeting with legislators from all four caucuses and I am very optimistic about reaching an agreement that can pass both chambers,” Inslee said. “Cities and counties are eager to see a statewide policy that balances accountability and treatment, and I believe we can produce a bipartisan bill that does just that. Details are still being negotiated, but caucus leaders share the desire to pass a bill. I believe that starting the clock on May 16 will put us on a path to getting the job done this month.”

The so-called “Blake fix” was the only remaining must-do item legislators didn’t finish during the regular legislative session that ended April 23, according to the news release. In 2021, the Washington Supreme Court overturned the state’s felony drug possession law. Legislators adopted a temporary misdemeanor policy that expires July 1, 2023. In the absence of a statewide policy, several cities and counties have announced their intent to pass their own ordinances which would create a confusing patchwork of policies, treatment options and penalties.

The Legislature has earmarked more than $600 million in new state funding for myriad behavioral health services, including additional treatment facilities and services for people with substance use disorders, according to the news release.

Special sessions are 30 days, but Inslee says that if legislators come with an agreed-upon proposal, they should be able to finish within several days and adjourn promptly.

Senate Republican leader responds

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, of Centralia, offered this comment following Inslee’s proclamation that the Legislature will reconvene.

“The governor had indicated he would not call a special session until legislative leaders reached an agreement that is worth bringing in front of each chamber,” Braun said in a news release. “To be clear, we’re not to that point yet, although there have been productive bipartisan discussions over the past week. In that sense his announcement today was unexpected.

“Republicans worked in good faith throughout the regular session toward a new law that will give drug offenders more incentive to enter and complete treatment. We remain committed to that. While I am hopeful for a better outcome this next time around, there is also reason to be cautious.

“The House Democrats will need to demonstrate a combination of bipartisanship and leadership that was missing during the 105 days of the regular session – especially at the end, when they failed to pass a proposal that was still far from reasonable, and Democrats from all corners falsely claimed that failure was somehow the fault of Republicans, even though we are in the minority.

“All along, Republicans have insisted on a new drug-possession policy that truly works for the stakeholders – law enforcement, the criminal-justice system, and local governments. They need more leverage to save lives, lift people out of the despair that goes with being addicted to drugs like fentanyl, and also reclaim our streets and sidewalks. That’s still the right path for the upcoming special session. We must do better.”