This week, Mayors of 32 cities – including Kent Mayor Dana Ralph – signed a joint letter regarding legislative activity that is impacting the state’s drug laws.
Mayors from the following cities, including two others in South King County, signed the letter, which expresses their concerns with the changes made by the House to SB 5536.
“The changes represent a step back in accountability and make it more difficult for local governments to keep our communities safe,” the letter says. “Our communities are tired of the rampant drug use and the resulting violence, vandalism, and crimes that typically accompany substance abuse. We hear about it every single day. Decriminalizing drugs and taking away necessary accountability has sent the wrong message to the small percentage of criminal element that is negatively impacting the overwhelming majority of law-abiding individuals in our communities.”
The Mayors from the following cities signed the letter, which is dated April 19, 2023:
- Gig Harbor
- Bonney Lake
- Medical Lake
- Liberty Lake
- Spokane Valley
“During this legislative session, I have asked the Legislature, repeatedly, to address drug use laws,” Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said in a statement. “The current version of the bill takes us backwards. It will make it harder for us and other cities to address public drug use. It will make it harder for us to get people into treatment.”
“Unless this bill is fixed, it would be better for the Legislature to do nothing,” Ralph added. “The attached letter, signed by mayors from across the state, lays out our ask to address drug abuse, not take away cities ability to do so.”
Kent was the first City in the state to enact its own possession laws in an attempt to impact this problem in our community. Many cities followed our lead.
“Many of you have sent comments, emails, called 911 and attended in-person meetings in an attempt to understand what Law Enforcement can and cannot do regarding this complex issue,” reads a Facebook post on the Kent Police Department’s Facebook page.
Below is full text from the letter:
“Hello State Legislators,
“As local governments, public safety is our number one job, and we are asking for help from the state Legislature to restore tough boundaries, maintain local control, and protect our communities. We, the undersigned mayors, have become increasingly concerned with the changes made by the House to SB 5536.
“The changes represent a step back in accountability and make it more difficult for local governments to keep our communities safe.
“We recognize substance use disorder is a medical issue and that substance use disorder treatment and services are necessary. We appreciate that the Legislature has taken action to approve crisis response facilities and has allocated funding to construct those facilities to ensure that treatment and services are available. However, even with available facilities, substance use disorder impairs individual decision-making ability which prevents many from entering necessary treatment and services without being adequately compelled. Given that, any final version of SB 5536 needs to ensure that the final bill enacted encourages individuals to obtain necessary treatment, holds individuals accountable, and directs the court to implement a mandatory penalty that is often necessary for the individual to enter and complete treatment.
“We are supportive of the Senate’s proposal to make possession of controlled substances punishable as a gross misdemeanor and for the additional statutory guidance to the judiciary on appropriate sentencing levels. However, there are specific issues within the House-approved version of SB 5536 that are gravely concerning to local cities who are accountable for and must deal with the local impacts associate with drug use.
- “We are concerned that the version passed out of the House lacks adequate accountability to compel an individual to seek and complete the services they need. Though substance use disorder is a medical issue, someone that suffers from substance use disorder does not have the right to victimize the community. The state must recognize that substance use disorder impairs individual decision-making ability and has substantial impact on the individual and the community they live in and that individual requires incentives, which often includes being compelled, to seek help. The law that ultimately gets passed out of the legislature needs to contain tougher guardrails so that individuals enter and complete the necessary treatment and services. We are urging that the legislature retain the mandatory minimums and gross misdemeanor penalty in the Senate version for final passage of the bill.
- “We are also concerned with the addition to the legislation language that restricts the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate the public use of drugs. The House insertion into the Senate bill will preempt local laws passed or being considered by many cities across the state. The public use of drugs presents an immediate and prolonged health and safety risk to our local public from the discarded paraphernalia, effects of the drug on the user, and potential contact with the substance by law abiding people. For these reasons cities ought to have the power to address this dangerous situation in a manner that is best to protect their families, visitors, workforce, businesses, and others in their community. We are concerned that current local laws that have proven to be effective at addressing these impacts will be replaced with a state law that will fail to address the local issues. Public use is different than simple possession for these reasons and should be treated as such.
“Our communities are tired of the rampant drug use and the resulting violence, vandalism, and crimes that typically accompany substance abuse. We hear about it every single day. Decriminalizing drugs and taking away necessary accountability has sent the wrong message to the small percentage of criminal element that is negatively impacting the overwhelming majority of law-abiding individuals in our communities.
“Our families, businesses, and individuals deserve to live in a community where they feel safe and you can help us get there. Please address the measures outlined above so that we can stand in partnership in the safety of our communities.”