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by Laura Groshong, LICSW
Coalition Lobbyist



2015 Legislative Session Summary

Though the 2015 legislative session is not quite over (a special session is in effect to finish writing the biennial budget), the bills that the Coalition was tracking this year are completed. Here are the bills that affect mental health clinicians and associates, and their status.

  1. Expedited Path to Chemical Dependency Professional – There is a great need for more clinicians to provide treatment for clients with substance abuse problems. Many mental health professionals are interested in becoming CDPs, if a program that gives credit for the work that has already been completed toward the CDP can be taken into account. HIGH PRIORITY: The most contentious issue of this session, though outside the purview of the Legislature. The Legislature passed a bill last year to give licensed mental health practitioners an “alternative path”, i.e., less than the two years of training required for current CDP, many of whom have associate degrees, are former alcoholics/addicts, and have a rigid approach to treatment that includes abstinence only and rejection of co-occurring disorders. There have been five meetings of the Chemical Dependency Advisory Committee that became increasingly hostile to Coalition recommendations of allowing a harm-reduction approach to treatment, inclusion of co-occurring disorders, and continuing education as a way to achieve the 15 hours of required training (currently only at institutions of higher learning according to draft rule.) The Coalition is working on other ways to achieve an alternative path (please see recent article on this topic in the Coalition Newsletter).

  2. Restoring funding to the health professional loan repayment and scholarship program fund (SB 5010/HB 1080) – Several legislators have proposed reinstating funding to health professionals for loan repayment and/or scholarship program funds for mental health professionals and/or other health care clinicians that choose to work in rural areas. This could be a great option for some new graduates. HIGH PRIORITY: This universally supported bill in the House died in the Senate, as did several other bills supported by the Coalition.

  3. Additional Funding for Psychiatric BedsThis would continue the process that has begun to stop the use of emergency rooms for psychiatric care or ‘boarding’. (in Appropriations) MODERATE PRIORITY: 150 new beds were created in the budget, still under consideration. This is less than will be needed to service the growing mentally ill population. There are five times more inmates in corrections facilities than there are in hospitals, an almost complete reverse from the places that the mentally ill were found 15 years ago.
  4. Certified Counselors Scope of Practice (SB 5440) - In 2009, registered counselors became certified counselors whose scope of practice required doing a multi-axial analysis of each patient according to the DSM-IV-TR and referring any patient with a GAF score lower than 50.  As a result of the changes to DSM-5, which eliminated the multi-axial system, this bill requires certified counselors and advisors to determine whether a patient has a diagnosed condition that is mild , moderate, or severe according to initial assessment. The conditions for assessment will be determined in rule. This bill will give certified counselors a new scope of practice according to DSM-5 standards of assessment, though the tools they need to use will be determined in rule. MODERATE PRIORITY: This bill, an attempt to replace the old standard of GAF scores as the basis for diagnosis by certified counselors, died in the House. Another attempt will be made to find a solution to replacing the GAF, which was eliminated from DSM-5 in 2013. 

  5. Regarding Telemedicine (SB 5175) This bill would allow health care clinicians to conduct health care through telemedicine, including mental health treatment for clinicians who are able to practice independently. Clinicians would be required to see the patient in-person first. Concerns about the use of videoconferencing sites that are encrypted and willing to sign a Business Associate Agreement will be raised. HIGH PRIORITY: This bill was signed by the Governor on April 28 and opens the door to telemental health services to state employees and Medicaid enrollees according to the above guidelines.
  6. Adding LSWAICs to HEAL-WA (HB 1184) – This bill would allow Licensed Social Work Associates-Independent Clinical (LSWAICs) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTAs) to have access to all the materials in the University of Washington libraries through the HEAL-WA program, currently available to LICSWs, LMFTs, and many other health care disciplines. MODERATE PRIORITY: A minor bright spot in a discouraging session. LMFTAs, LSWAICs and LSWAAs can now have access to the UW library for research they wish to pursue. Signed by the Governor on April 24.

  7. Creating Independent Review Organizations (HB 1956) – Would create a system for public review of denied mental health treatment (testimony submitted for 2/13/15 – passed out of House with addendum to keep in DOH instead of OIC but change process). HIGH PRIORITY: This bill fulfilled the old saw “the Senate is where good bills go to die.” The bill was not heard in the Senate Health Committee and was therefore not passed out of committee. On a positive note, OIC is holding meetings to see if a form of this bill can be passed in rules. 

  8. Mitigating Barriers to Treatment by Insurers (HB 1471) – Would stop insurers from 1) requiring providers to join additional networks the insurer creates; 2) will require reviews by clinicians of the same category; and 3) will prevent prior authorization for a first visit. (In Appropriations) HIGH PRIORITY: This bill was signed by the Governor on May 14, another minor bright spot in a discouraging session.

  9. Protecting Youth from Aversive Mental Health Therapies (SB 5870) – This is the bill that is designed to prevent conversion therapy for gay youth – language now reads that no “aversive therapy” can be performed on any youth in response to objections from religious groups. (In Rules Committee) HIGH PRIORITY: Another example of the Senate failing to concur with the improved version of this bill and letting it die as a result. This was a terrible loss, coming as it did two days after President Obama came out in support of prohibiting conversion therapy for minors. Sen. Liias and others who have been so dedicated to passing this bill for the past four years will continue to work on doing so, though it may take a new Senate to accomplish this goal.

While it has been a disappointing session on the issues that mattered the most to the Coalition, I will make every effort to continue to fight for the policies and legislation that will provide the most access to ethical mental health treatment.


Washington State Coalition of Mental Health Professionals & Consumers
Mailing Address:  P. O. Box 30087  Seattle, WA 98113   Phone:  206-444-4304