Speaker Chopp’s Swan Song

The Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives, Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), has prime sponsored and given committee testimony on a bill.

That alone is news.

For those who don’t follow the #waleg with anything resembling religious fervor (which I know is most of you), it might be surprising to think that the longest tenured Speaker in Washington state history, has never (as Speaker) worked a bill through the legislative process.

He’s the definition of a back room political operator. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I only mean it observationally. He has done the work of Speaker, without doing much in the way of speaking, by allowing his caucus to work the legislation.

This is not to say he is hands off. The agenda still goes through his office, and he throws around a ton of weight when it comes to decisions regarding what makes it to the floor for a final up or down vote. He is also able to kill would be legislation, often times before it even gets to a  committee hearing (see the several bills that have been dropped over the years hoping to ban the sale and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons in Washington… chances are you haven’t heard of them).

As it is with many other left-leaning types in Washington, I think Frank Chopp has been a bit of a mixed bag as a Speaker. There are, of course,  accomplishments and missed opportunities from the success of finally getting court approval of a constitutionally mandated school funding model, to the poor decision making that got us to the point where the court had to step in at all.

Personally, the Speaker’s total inability to deal with the state’s upside down taxing structure (the most regressive tax system in the country), is the biggest black eye. How is it, that a blue state (sorry Republicans, until you win a serious amount of statewide races, this is still a blue state) with a Seattle liberal as its Speaker of the House, still taxes it’s poorest citizens at a higher rate than the 13 billionaires that live in Washington? (This includes a few super billionaires like Gates, Bezos, Ballmer, etc.)

But to give credit where credit is due, Speaker Chopp has governed one of the most progressive legislative bodies in the country over the last 20 years, and has done so without losing his majority. That’s impressive. 

Now it appears he may be cooking up one of the biggest wins in his career right now with the bill I mentioned at the top of the piece.

So let’s talk about the bill.

House Bill 1593 (There is a senate companion; Senate Bill 5516 prime sponsored by Sen. Cleveland) is request legislation from the Governor’s office to “establish a behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the University of Washington school of medicine.”

Both the House and Senate bills have Republican co-sponsors. This bill has a chance. Mental/behavioral health issues, and our state’s inability to effectively care for those suffering with such issues, have no partisan lean.

According to a recent study by Mental Health America, Washington now ranks 34th in overall delivery and quality of mental/behavioral health care. Just a few short years ago, Washington was in the bottom five of states.

Now, after announcing he would be stepping away from the Speakership after this session, Speaker Chopp has shown that he wants to make a long-term, big-time investment in the delivery and efficacy of behavioral health care to benefit all the people of Washington.

The measure would require the “University of Washington School of Medicine to create a plan to develop and site a teaching hospital to provide: inpatient care for up to 150 individuals; interdisciplinary training of health care workers; and other training opportunities.” The plan must be reported to the Office of Financial Management by December of this year.

That is a quick turnaround. Chopp wants to get this done. Quickly. In fact, in the committee testimony he gave, he was asked by Rep. Vandana Slatter about timelines… Chopp said “… as fast as possible.”

Watch the testimony here.

In the end the bill would help address two main problems driving Washington’s behavioral health crisis; lack of capacity (beds) for those who need care, and a lack of certified behavioral health care providers needed to treat the population.

This is a bill we at the #TheOPP will be watching, and supporting, throughout the legislative process.

You should reach out to your legislator to let them know you support fixing Washington’s broken health care delivery model and ask them to support Speaker Chopp’s lone prime sponsored HB 1539.