House approves Padden bill encouraging specialty courts

Sen. Mike Padden saw his legislation to encourage the establishment of specialty, or “therapeutic,” courts move one step closer to becoming law, following a unanimous vote today in the state House of Representatives. The state Senate had given Senate Bill 5107 its unanimous support in February.

“Therapeutic courts serve an important role in our judicial system; this bill would provide these courts with the flexibility they need to continue addressing societal problems in a constructive and cost-effective manner,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

Often called problem-solving courts, therapeutic courts commonly require intense, judicially supervised treatment with the goal of reducing recidivism. Some examples of therapeutic courts are those dealing with drugs, veterans’ treament, domestic violence, driving under the influence, mental health and juvenile gangs.

Under Padden’s bill, defendants are ineligible for participation in a therapeutic court if they are charged with or have been previously convicted of:

  • a serious violent offense or sex offense;
  • an offense involving firearms;
  • vehicular homicide; or
  • an offense alleging substantial bodily harm or death of another person.

SB 5107 requires jurisdictions that seek federal funding for the support of therapeutic courts to match, on a one-for-one basis, state dollars allocated for those courts. The match is not required for state money spent on administrative and overhead costs, until June 30, 2016.

“This bill moves current provisions of state law dealing with therapeutic courts from various statutes to a single chapter,” said Padden, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “It makes it clear to our local jurisdictions that the state supports these problem-solving courts and encourages the establishment of partnerships across jurisdictions to combine therapeutic courts, reduce costs and seek federal funding if they choose.

“This will help expand therapeutic courts to areas where they are not currently feasible.”

The bill will now come back to the Senate, which will have the option of agreeing with the House changes to the bill or seeking a conference to reconcile the differences between the two versions that were passed.