Governor signs array of O’Ban social justice reforms

In a formal ceremony today, Gov. Jay Inslee signed three landmark pieces of legislation sponsored by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County. The first law empowers families seeking mental-health treatment for loved ones, known as “Joel’s Law.” The second ground-breaking reform increases fairness for juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system by changing requirements for sealing juvenile records. The third measure streamlines access to information for lawyers representing children whose parents have had their parental rights terminated.

“Joel’s Law,” created by Senate Bill 5269, is the result of O’Ban’s work with the family of Joel Reuter, a mentally ill man who was shot and killed in 2013 by Seattle police. The law would allow for intervention by family members who disagree with a designated mental-health professional in determining whether to detain a person under the state’s involuntary treatment act. That law allows the involuntary commitment of people who pose a danger to themselves, others or property, or can’t care for themselves. Supporters of O’Ban’s legislation have been vocal in their calls to empower families in mental-health decisions.

“I’m very pleased that this legislation to address a serious gap in the state’s mental-health system is now law,” said O’Ban. “Working with families, it is apparent that they are yearning to be more involved in mental-health decisions. This law makes a meaningful reform that allows families to intervene on behalf of mentally ill loved ones to prevent tragic circumstances similar to those that led to Joel Reuter’s death. I am very grateful to his family who has been instrumental in getting this legislation to the governor’s desk. .”

O’Ban and numerous community advocates also saw Inslee sign the YEAR Act, Senate Bill 5564. The law would allow juvenile offenders who have not committed a serious crime to have their records sealed. Currently, only juveniles with the ability to pay significant court fines are able to have their records sealed, creating a serious disparity in the opportunity for juveniles to move on from youthful mistakes. The result excludes many reformed offenders from obtaining housing, finding employment or pursuing an education.

The third O’Ban bill signed by the governor is Senate Bill 5262. It builds on successful legislation O’Ban sponsored in 2014, which provides legal counsel for children who are in the state’s care after parental rights have been terminated. The new law makes a technical change, requiring the court to release records to the Office of Civil Legal Aid, which will be administering aspects of the 2014 law.

“These are significant pieces of legislation that can have life-changing outcomes for families of the mentally ill and youth seeking to improve their lives,” said O’Ban. “In a way, these are working in concert to address the nexus where the state and vulnerable populations meet. The difference now is that there are better outcomes available. Families are empowered to be engaged in the mental health of their family members. Juvenile offenders have the hope of improving their lives through new opportunities. Children whose parents have had their rights terminated will have a voice to fight for their legal rights.”