Elections

State mental health budget on agenda for candidates in Tacoma’s 27th District

Two Democratic incumbents in the 27th Legislative District have entered the final weeks of their campaigns with token opposition and flush campaign bank accounts.

Tacoma Democratic Reps. Jake Fey and Laurie Jinkins each faced two candidates in the August primary election and walked away with more than two-thirds of the vote.

As the November election approaches, Jinkins and Fey have attracted more than $80,000 each in campaign donations, compared with their Republican opponents, who have raised little to nothing. The Democrats have spent around $60,000 each on their campaigns.

Republican Steven T. Cook, who seeks Fey’s Position 2 seat, has raised slightly more than $1,200, according to reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Cook is a pastor from Tacoma’s South End neighborhood.

Republican Rodger Deskins, who seeks Jinkins’ Position 1 seat, did not return emails and calls seeking comment. Deskins, a Tacoma real estate agent, has reported no donations to his campaign.

As the Legislature struggles to find ways to pay for K-12 education and a wide-ranging transportation package, Fey, Jinkins and Cook all said they want to make sure mental health funding is not forgotten.

The Democratic-leaning 27th District includes several Tacoma neighborhoods: Northeast, North End, East Side, downtown, Central Tacoma and a northern portion of the South End.

POSITION 1

Jinkins said earlier this year that education and transportation are her top-two priorities. Earlier this year she called funding education “a moral obligation.”

The state Supreme Court unanimously held the Legislature in contempt in September for failing to meet the state’s constitutional duty to fully fund K-12 education.

Jinkins said the state must address involuntary treatment of the mentally ill.

“Right now it appears it’s significantly a funding issue,” Jinkins said.

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that warehousing mentally ill patients in hospital emergency rooms is against the law.

“If you or I go to the hospital with a broken arm, the hospital doesn’t say ‘we can’t treat you,’ ” Jinkins said recently. “There’s a clear lack of beds for people who are mentally ill in Washington state.”

Solving this problem, like most, boils down to money. She said the state would have to partner closely with hospitals statewide to increase the number of beds available for the mentally ill. Also, she said, there are people who could be treated for mental illness who do not have to be in the hospital. They could be ordered to take medications while living in the community.

“We need to treat it like the disease that it is, intervene early and get people good care,” Jinkins said.

Jinkins also said she wants the Legislature to consider a bill for a universal form for people who apply for charity care at hospitals. Some hospitals have forms that can be filled out in a reasonable amount of time, she said, but others don’t — and that can lead to people giving up.

POSITION 2

Cook, who is Fey’s Republican challenger, said the challenge with fixes to the mental health issue is doing it correctly with limited funds.

He said he hopes someone has already ordered a study of how to fix the issue so the Legislature can hit the ground running after the election.

“The Supreme Court hasn’t given us much of a choice on that one,” he said of the issue. “Otherwise the Legislature is going to find themselves in contempt for two different things, which is not my preferred method of operations.”

Cook said if elected, he hopes to sunset more laws off of the books, but couldn’t provide specific examples. He said he ran into many unneeded laws when he was on the George City Council in central Washington.

Fey said the state needs to keep the safety net intact as it finds ways to pay for education and transportation.

“We need to make sure we encourage people to work, but not everyone can work,” Fey said. “Some people have disabilities whether it’s mental or otherwise. We need to make sure we don’t lose our compassion for people. … particularly women and children and the elderly.”

Fey said he also wants to find money for a proposed community center on Tacoma’s East Side in the state’s budget. It could cost $30 million to $35 million to build the center, which includes a swimming pool. This year’s successful Metro Parks Tacoma bond measure included $6 million for the center.

“We have to give kids choices about how they spend their time, and in that part of town there’s a lot of challenges,” Fey said.

He also wants the state to identify the state’s homeless children before they enter kindergarten to see how to make sure they are ready for school.

“Before kindergarten, the kids’ brain development occurs in those years,” Fey said.

Finally, Fey said the state needs to require more public employees to fill out forms, such as the ones required of state lawmakers, that could identify financial conflicts of interest. Government officials with the ability to sign off on contracts without the approval of elected officials should file financial disclosures, he said.

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