Crosscut Briefs

Since a federal court ruled in 2015 that the state was failing to do timely competency evaluations related to court proceedings, the Washington Legislature has been trying to shore up the mental health part of the state’s legal system.

Gov. Jay Inslee this week signed a bill that takes the next step toward overhauling the system as required by the so-called Trueblood decision. Senate Bill 5440 will overhaul the competency system, improve the timeliness of evaluations and provide services to people in the legal system who are suffering from behavioral health disorders.

SB 5440 includes a number of new initiatives and rules. The new law requires jails to allow mental health providers to meet with defendants waiting in jail for competency restoration. It prohibits jails or juvenile detention centers from substituting or discontinuing an individual’s medication for a serious mental health disorder when they are medically stable on the medication. And it creates a way for someone with non-felony charges to get those charges dismissed so they can get mental health treatment outside of jail.

The state was fined $83 million before reaching an agreement to settle the Trueblood case in 2018. The process of overhauling Washington’s competency system has been an ongoing process – overseen by the federal courts – ever since. 

King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones announced today that they will step down in June. Deputy CEO Helen Howell will take over as interim CEO. 

The Regional Homelessness Authority was created in 2019 by the city of Seattle and King County to consolidate oversight and management of the homelessness response system. The authority manages contracts for the nonprofit service providers providing outreach, shelter and housing. It takes the lead on homelessness policy decisions. It serves as the region’s go-between on federal homelessness policy. And the authority has its own staff of frontline homeless outreach workers

Dones was hired as the organization’s first leader in 2021. Their departure, first reported by Publicola, comes amid criticisms from homeless service providers and from advocates that the agency has mishandled its takeover of the homeless contract system, leaving some nonprofit providers operating without pay.

In a joint statement, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine thanked Dones for their service: “Marc’s drive to innovate systems, improve housing stability, and help people move off the streets and inside with the supports they need is rooted in a staunch commitment to ending homelessness. From leading the design of the KCRHA to taking the reins as its first CEO, Marc has played an indispensable role in transforming ‘regional solutions to homelessness’ from an idea to tangible action.”

The Regional Homelessness Authority also released a statement about Dones's departure, thanking them for their leadership: “They have been a tireless advocate for racial equity and social justice, centering lived experience, increasing affordable housing, highlighting root causes of economic instability, and working together to iterate on new approaches to transforming the homelessness response system.”

The Washington Legislature on Tuesday will convene a special session intended to reach a compromise on how the state should treat drug possession and substance use.

Called by Gov. Jay Inslee, the 30-day session comes after legislators failed to approve a proposed compromise for a new drug possession law to replace a temporary statute that is set to expire July 1. While they have 30 days to finish, they may adjourn sooner.

The work comes in response to a 2021 ruling by the Washington Supreme Court – known as the Blake decision – which struck down the state’s felony drug possession statute and invalidated a generation of criminal convictions and related penalties. Since then, legislators have tried to navigate a political landscape fractured over whether and how drug possession should be penalized, and how to boost treatment services for substance use.

That effort collapsed late last month at the end of the regularly scheduled legislative session, when the Democratic-controlled House failed to approve a proposed compromise, Senate Bill 5536.

As part of their attempts to get at a solution, lawmakers and Inslee have already budgeted more than $600 million in new statewide funding for treatment facilities and other behavioral health services, according to the governor’s office.

Lawmakers could wrap up the 30-day special session early if they reach a deal quickly, according to a statement earlier this month by the governor’s office.

“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,” said Inslee in prepared remarks. “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.”

Washington experienced 1,733 overdose deaths in 2020, according to federal government data. That’s an increase of almost 60% from the 1,094 such fatalities statewide in 2015.

Get ready for a hot weekend in Seattle and Western Washington

A heat advisory for most of Western Washington covers Saturday afternoon through Monday evening, when temperatures in the mid-80s to low 90s are forecast.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for most of Western Washington this weekend. The advisory covers Saturday afternoon through Monday evening, when temperatures in the mid-80s to low 90s are forecast. Temperatures could reach 15 to 20 degrees above Seattle-area average for May.

King County is prepared to roll out its new extreme heat mitigation plan, which Crosscut wrote about last summer, as temperatures rise this spring and summer. Writer Hannah Weinberger shared lots of community resources in this story.

After the past few hot summers, Seattle has evolved to no longer be the U.S.’s least air-conditioned city. You may be eligible for government help to acquire an air conditioner. More than a thousand Washington residents have benefited from this program.

And here’s a very practical story on how to keep cool even without air conditioning, including a very specific plan for when to open and close your windows.

The National Weather Service, public health officials and Crosscut’s Hannah Weinberger want people to know that even in Washington’s coolest regions, heat can be deadly

Washington Supreme Court changes its opinion on race in juries

Justice Susan Owens notes that in previous rulings, the Court fell short of the objective to remove racism from the jury selection process.

The Washington Supreme Court revised its previous stand on what it means to have a “jury of your peers” in a decision issued Thursday.

Race discrimination in jury selection violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, Justice Susan Owens states at the beginning of her simple-yet-dramatic opinion, which was signed by all her colleagues on the court.

Owens notes that previous rulings by the Washington Supreme Court fell short of the objective to remove racism from the jury selection process.

In 2010, a Black defendant appealed a trial court decision after a second potential Black juror was removed from the jury box in his trial for robbery, drug and firearm charges. The Supreme Court rejected his appeal at the time, but has now ordered Theodore R. Rhone’s case to be retried – 13 years after he made his appeal.

After the court swore in the jury, Rhone made the following statement: “I would like to have someone that represents my culture as well as your culture. To have this the way it is … seems unfair to me. It’s not a jury of my peers.”

Owens said Rhone was asking for “a bright line rule establishing a prima facie case of discrimination when the State peremptorily strikes the last member of a racially recognized group” from the potential jury pool. But the Court did not agree to adopt this rule in 2010.

The justices changed their minds in the years following because of all they have learned since then regarding the impact of implicit bias in jury selection, Owens wrote in her opinion.

The 2023 opinion was related to a different matter in Rhone’s case, but as Owens wrote, “We take this opportunity to revisit and correct that decision.”

“Given the unique factual and procedural history of this case and in the interest of justice, we recall our prior mandate, reverse Rhone’s convictions, and remand for a new trial,” she wrote.

Washington reports 10 times more flu deaths this season

A total of 262 Washington residents were reported to have died from the flu between the beginning of October 2022 and the end of April 2023.

Ten times more Washingtonians died from the flu during the 2022-2023 season compared to the previous flu season, the Washington Department of Health reported on Thursday.

A total of 262 Washington residents were reported to have died from the flu between the beginning of October 2022 and the end of April 2023, including 257 adults and five children. The Health Department reported 26 laboratory-confirmed flu deaths during the 2021-2022 flu season. Officials believe COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including masking, staying home and limited gatherings, may have kept flu activity down for the past few years. 

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 57,000 flu deaths occurred between Oct. 1, 2022 and April 29, 2023. The CDC reports one positive statistic concerning this year’s flu season: Hospitalizations decreased 75% for children and by about half for adults. Federal officials credit the flu vaccine for these decreases, but also note that flu vaccination rates have gone down nationally in certain groups, including children and pregnant people, compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Washington Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah advised people to become more diligent about getting a flu vaccine now that masking and social distancing are less common again. 

“The flu vaccine is your best protection against this serious disease. Even if you get the flu, if you’ve been vaccinated, typically your illness is milder and you aren’t as likely to need to go to the hospital,” Shah said in a DOH statement.

In Washington, flu activity rose at the end of October and peaked by the end of November. The DOH’s Flu Overview page has more information about this season’s outbreak.

Chinook citizens get free tuition at Clatsop Community College

Until now, free college tuition programs have not been offered to tribes like the Chinook Indian Nation that do not have federal recognition.

Several states offer free college tuition for Indigenous students from federally recognized Native nations. For nations like the Chinook Indian Nation who have been fighting for federal recognition for the past 20 years, these higher-education opportunities have been denied, until recently. 

Clatsop Community College announced on May 6 at the North Coast Inclusion Seminar that they would be the first higher-education institute within the Chinook Indigenous lands to grant free tuition to the nation.

“I saw no other option.” Chris Breitmeyer, president of Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon, said in a press release. 

“Knowing that hundreds of tribes are receiving these incredible opportunities while the Chinook Indian Nation is left to fend for themselves should upset every single Oregonian,” Breitmeyer said. “It is our responsibility to do better by our indigenous communities, and we are proud to support the Chinook Indian Nation in this way. We know we have done the right thing, and encourage other higher-ed institutions to follow suit.”

Chinook leadership believes that local support for the Chinook Indian Nation is pivotal to their continued efforts for federal recognition, and is grateful to Clatsop Community College for prioritizing Chinook citizens and respecting the nation’s sovereignty. 

“Clatsop Community College has made a significant commitment to honoring our place within the community, reaffirming our status as an active tribe, and supporting our members as they work to cultivate better futures for themselves,” said Rachel Cushman, secretary/treasurer of the Chinook Indian Nation Tribal Council. She called the college’s decision a move toward building economic security for her people. 

The Chinook Indian Nation hopes that other higher-education institutions in Washington and Oregon will follow the lead of the University of Oregon (which offers a similar program) and Clatsop Community College to treat them with the same respect and offer the same opportunities as federally recognized nations. 

This morning, the Seattle City Council took an early step toward limiting the circumstances under which gig companies can deactivate workers’ accounts on their platforms.

During the Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting, Council staff gave a presentation on draft legislation that would set parameters for when and why workers could have their accounts deactivated and create an appeals process, among other things. 

The bill states that companies’ deactivation policies must be “reasonable and be reasonably related to the network company’s safe and efficient operations.” Unreasonable policies include deactivations related to number of hours worked, acceptance or rejection of work offers, and low ratings by customers, among others.

The policy would require companies to give 14 days of notice before deactivation; provide documentation substantiating the deactivation; and allow workers to appeal their deactivation to a person with authority to reverse the decision.

In instances where companies suspect workers of engaging in “egregious misconduct,” the companies will be able to deactivate accounts immediately rather than waiting until the end of the 14-day investigation period. Egregious misconduct includes assault, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, theft, fraud, DUI and a number of other criminal actions.

Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis are leading the Council’s work on a suite of policies, called the PayUp Legislation, meant to improve working conditions for independent contractors on gig apps. Last year Seattle passed a minimum wage for gig workers. Earlier this year they created a gig-worker paid sick and safe time law.

According to Council staff, gig workers have raised deactivation as a key concern during the city’s stakeholder meetings with gig workers and app-company representatives. Workers expressed frustration with a lack of transparency around why they’re being deactivated and a lack of recourse.

At this morning’s Council meeting, speaking through a translator, food delivery worker Georgina Rojas said she was deactivated from DoorDash last year without explanation and the company did not respond to her appeals. Without her source of income, she started to fall behind on bills, and after three weeks she decided she had no choice but to switch to working for a different app company.

Representatives from Instacart and DoorDash also testified at the meeting, expressing concern with the policy, especially around limits to their ability to quickly deactivate workers and the disclosure of certain private information. 

As draft legislation, the policy is in its earliest stages. The next step is for Councilmember Herbold to officially introduce the bill for consideration and potential amendment by the rest of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee.

Gov. Inslee signs bill to help survivors of sex trafficking in WA

The legislation will fund healing and transition services for people who have experienced sex trafficking. 


Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill intended to help survivors of sex trafficking access housing, health services and more in Washington. 

“This is important because many survivors don’t know that services exist and there are people available to support them through their journey to healing,” said Jeri Moomaw, executive director of Innovations Human Trafficking Collaborative and co-founder of Washington Against Sexual Exploitation (WASE Forward), in a news release.

Signed on May 4, Substitute Senate Bill 5114 was written by and for survivors of adult sex trafficking, according to the WASE coalition of 34 agencies working to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable people.

The coalition hopes the money will be spent on culturally responsive programs and services tailored toward those disproportionately affected by human trafficking, including communities of color.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, and Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, will fund services like legal advocacy, safety planning, substance-use disorder treatment, housing, health services and education.  

Different factors make Washington particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, according to the Attorney General’s Office, including its border with Canada, rural landscape and “abundance of ports.” 

King County's trailhead shuttle for hikers will return May 13

King County’s Trailhead Direct service returns for its fifth year to shuttle hikers between Seattle and North Bend trailheads through Sept. 4. 

King County’s Trailhead Direct service returns for its fifth year this weekend to shuttle car-free hikers between Seattle and North Bend trailheads on weekends and holidays through Sept. 4. 

The county invested in a shuttle service in 2017 amid concerns about both climate change and recreation access. It opened some of the region’s most popular hiking trails to those who either don’t use cars or who don’t want to deal with the traffic congestion that plagues these trails during peak hours. Cyclists, rejoice: Each shuttle includes bike racks with space for two to three bikes. 

The route starts at the Capitol Hill light-rail station every half hour, but users can also board at the Downtown light-rail station and the Eastgate freeway station. Stops include the North Bend Park & Ride and the trailheads for Little Si, Mt. Si and Mt. Tenerife. The longest ride takes one hour between Capitol Hill and Mt. Tenerife. 

Users can walk or roll onto shuttles and pay as they would for bus and light-rail rides. The one-way $2.75 fee can be paid using cash, an ORCA card or the Transit GO app. Users 18 and under ride for free.