Broken Inslee promise stalls behavioral-health treatment facility

CENTRALIA… Efforts to build a behavioral-health treatment facility in Lewis County are being pushed back another six months by what Lewis County lawmakers say is another broken promise from Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration.

Sen. John Braun and Rep. Peter Abbarno, both R-Centralia, are particularly frustrated because the governor’s office assured them an important cost-saving change in the state building code would be made on time, without need for the legislation the two lawmakers proposed in January. Instead, the regulatory move got caught up in the governor’s effort to ban the use of natural gas to heat buildings.

The code change would put residential treatment facilities under the residential building code rather than the costlier institutional building code, allowing Cascade Behavioral Health to move forward on using state grant money to build an inpatient center in Chehalis for up to 16 people with substance-use disorder. The move to the R-4 code was expected to take effect next week, but a combination of actions by the State Building Code Council has delayed it to mid-March.

“People are dying because they don’t have access to drug treatment. Inflation raises the cost of construction just like it does anything else. The governor controls all the players in this – the members of the building code council are his picks, the state Department of Health is in his branch of government – and he still can’t get it done. This is a stunning lack of leadership, and unfortunately, it just adds to the record of mismanagement and incompetence by the Inslee administration,” said Braun.

“Community members suffering from addiction, especially in rural communities, need proper treatment facilities and this policy addresses those needs,” Abbarno said. “Sadly, the R-4 building code designation change has been caught up in the governor’s political gamesmanship. The long overdue code change to add drug-treatment capacity will save lives.”

Senate Bill 5416, introduced by Braun, and House Bill 1409, introduced by Abbarno, will again be available for passage in the 2024 legislative session. The bills are identical and contain language that would take immediate effect once signed by the governor, meaning legislators still could act before March in a way that shortens the delay in bringing the Chehalis facility construction under the R-4 code.

The lawmakers say the switch to the R-4 code got snared in the climate agenda being pushed by the governor and Democratic lawmakers. A package of changes adopted by the SBCC earlier this year included not only the R-4 expansion but also a controversial move to force the use of electric heat instead of gas heat in new construction. After a similar natural-gas ban in California was invalidated by a federal court, the SBCC approved a delay until Oct. 29, which has now turned into March 15.

“The people in our state whose lives are turned upside down because of drug addiction probably aren’t focused on carbon emissions,” Braun said. “Changing building codes to add drug-treatment capacity won’t get you an invitation to meet with global leaders in New York or impress the donor class, the way that demonizing natural gas will, but it’s what our communities need. The governor has a terrible track record when it comes to mental-health issues, and this is unfortunately just the latest example. Because he can’t deliver on time, this project is two years behind where it should be.”