Washington State Developing Model Ordinance for Permitting Behavioral Health Services as Essential Public Facilities

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The Washington State Department of Commerce is currently developing model legislation that could benefit behavioral health treatment facilities, as well as other Essential Public Facilities, across the state.

As part of its ongoing engagement with community stakeholders, an advisory committee formed by the Department will soon release a draft model ordinance for adoption by Washington cities and counties. The model ordinance is intended to create a more efficient and predictable process for the review of behavioral health treatment facilities, in the interest of bringing these facilities online more quickly so that the state's shortage of behavioral health treatment options can be addressed.

The Washington State Legislature has been providing capital budget funding for expanded behavioral health treatment options for many years, and numerous local agencies, nonprofits, and public-private partnerships have stepped up to deploy these resources. In some cases, these efforts have been hindered by local land codes that have not kept pace with emerging treatment options, meaning that even where funding is available, municipal permitting processes can slow or even stop these proposals altogether—despite their status as Essential Public Facilities that local governments are supposed to accommodate under the state's Growth Management Act.

The model legislation could be an important early step to help address this issue, so long as it is incorporated into city and county code processes allowing these facilities. Depending on the form of the ordinances that are ultimately adopted by the various cities and counties, it could also have larger implications for the development of other Essential Public Facilities across the state.

Those interested in tracking these developments can access the web page for the Behavioral Health Model Ordinance Project and view the Advisory Committee's meetings online.

The next meeting on the draft legislation will be held March 9, 2021, at 2PM PST. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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