The conflict between those who wanted more treatment and those who wanted more enforcement is what kept a compromise from happening in the regular session. By the time lawmakers returned, negotiators had brokered a deal that might pass but that wasn’t a sure thing until the debating started.
A good crisis usually generates strong debate, and the drug possession law was no exception. Lawmakers, including some usually tough-talking, law-and-order conservatives, described their own struggles with addiction to alcohol or drugs and how many years they’ve been clean and sober. Some, like Rep. Jenny Graham, talked about their children’s struggles. Some talked about relatives lost to overdoses.
Asked after the bill received final passage whether she was surprised by the many personal stories of drug abuse and addiction that surfaced during the debate, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said she was not: “Opioids are an epidemic. I think every person has a story to tell.”
Jinkins and other legislative leaders were confident the new bill strikes a good balance between treatment and punishment, with some $44 million added to some $1 billion already in the state’s operating budget to set up treatment, rehabilitation and rescue programs and train people to staff them.
But that second part will take time as well as money.
In a state where lawmakers on both sides contend drug abuse is a crisis, it’s unknown how long it will take some of those treatment options to reach Washington’s smaller communities or how effective they will be at stemming the tide in larger urban areas.
The final compromise doesn’t make everyone happy.
When the votes were taken, there were some strange bedfellows. In the Senate, conservative Republicans Mike Padden and Mark Schoesler found themselves voting no along with liberal Democrats Bob Hasegawa, Rebecca Saldaña and Jamie Pedersen.
But the bill received strong bipartisan support, a fact Gov. Jay Inslee noted at the signing just hours after it passed. He used the term bipartisan or “both parties” at least five times in four minutes.
While his remarks were bipartisan, the photo-op itself was not. Jinkins, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and the three Democrats who helped shape the compromise flanked him for the signing, but there wasn’t a Republican in sight.