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Washington State Senator: Mental health should be Legislature’s top priority

(AP)

The Washington State Legislature has been busy since it was called into session in 2019, introducing bills covering everything from human composting to Daylight Saving Time. But when it comes to what should be prioritized, state Senator Hans Zeiger points toward one, prevalent issue: Mental health.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee lays out plan for Washington opioid crisis

“To me, the top issue this session is behavioral health,” Zeiger told KTTH’s Saul Spady.

In December, Gov. Jay Inslee laid out a plan that proposed a chunk of money for addressing the state’s growing opioid and mental health crisis, including $10.7 million for drug prevention, and $19.3 million for treatment and recovery options.

For Zeiger, though, the investment from the state should be far more significant.

“I would argue that for every $2 of new revenue coming into the state, we need to devote a dollar to mental health, and taking on the challenges of chemical dependency in the state,” he outlined.

That said, Zeiger also advocated strongly against a handful of other taxes proposed in the governor’s budget.

“There’s huge tax fatigue out there right now,” he said. “I think we first of all need to do no harm to our state’s economy. Let’s not go crazy with raising taxes; let’s count our blessings that we do have significant new revenue coming into the state, and let’s set priorities.”

As for what those priorities are for Zeiger, that comes back to tackling the opioid crisis head-on.

“The top priority to me is mental health and that we’re taking on our state’s opioid crisis,” he said.

According to data from the State Attorney General’s Office, nearly half of Washington’s child-dependency cases involve opioid abuse. Another 39.9 percent of parental rights cases involve opioids, too.

“This survey confirms what we long suspected: Opioids have a devastating impact on Washington families,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said back in October. “The state must do more to combat this epidemic. Future generations of Washingtonians are at stake.”

Meanwhile, fentanyl overdoses are up nearly 70 percent year-over-year, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

RELATED: 70 percent increase in fentanyl deaths doesn’t tell whole story

Representing a part of the state that’s about as diverse as it gets politically, Zeiger seeks to legislate toward the interests of everyone in tackling this issue.

“I’ve got 150,000 bosses, and probably just as many Democrat bosses as Republican bosses,” he pointed out, referring to his 25th District constituents.

That said, his ask is simple: Fewer added taxes, and more of the state’s current revenue directed toward addressing this crisis as quickly as possible.

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