Senate Bill 5599 is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee to be signed into law after passing out of the Legislature on Wednesday.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, would allow licensed shelters for runaway or homeless youths to not report a child’s location to their parents if the child is seeking gender affirming care or reproductive health care services. The legislation initially passed out of the state Senate on March 1 by a vote of 27 to 19 and was passed out of the state House with amendments on April 12 by a vote of 57 to 39. The Senate then passed the bill with the House’s amendments on Wednesday, sending it to Inslee.
The bill has been controversial, passed largely with support from Democrats while Republicans have been critical of the proposal.
Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope is opposed to the bill, arguing that the legislation takes away parental rights.
“It’s a demonic, evil bill,” Swope told The Chronicle. “The bill is basically kidnapping kids.”
Swope argues children would be able to receive therapies, including gender affirming surgery, while their parents are looking for them.
“You’ll have it where parents are panicking about their child,” Swope said.
In Swope’s view, the government should not be involved in issues related to parenting except for in situations severe enough to require the involvement of Child Protective Services. He also expressed concerns government involvement in parenting could continue to expand.
“In no way should the government ever interfere with parental rights,” Swope said. “I just think it’s terrible. It’s a slippery slope that’s going to get more slippery.”
According to Swope, the law will result in Washington state becoming a “sanctuary for runaways … to get gender affirming care.”
Swope also criticized the bill by raising comparisons between gender affirming care and laws limiting the activities children can engage in. Swope argued it was contradictory to not have limits on gender affirming care while also having laws restricting the ability of minors to access alcohol or get tattoos.
“That makes no sense at all,” said Swope, who also claimed humans’ brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 26.
Many Democrats, however, disagree with Swope about what SB 5599 would do. According to Erin Hut, a communications specialist with the state Senate Democrats who spoke on behalf of Liias, the purpose of SB 5599 is to ensure “access to safe, stable shelter” and prevent youths in crisis from living on the street.
“We want every child to live in a home that is safe, supportive and accepting, but we know that is not always the case. In some cases, youth are being told to leave by their parents,” Hut told The Chronicle.
Hut said the bill does not deal with the issue of who can access health care, something she said the law already addresses. Hut also said the bill does not determine what kind of care is appropriate for youth, which she said is currently regulated by the Department of Health.
“This bill is simply about ensuring that youth experiencing homelessness have access to emergency shelter when they need it,” Hut said.
Hut claimed many of the claims surrounding SB 5599 are rooted in misinformation regarding what the bill does.
“SB 5599 is focused on making sure that youth can access emergency shelter rather than staying on the streets in unsafe conditions. The bill also ensures that law enforcement are always notified, which is current law, and it directs the state to initiate family reunification efforts as quickly as possible,” Hut said.
According to Swope, the Democrats supporting the bill are the ones whose arguments are based in misinformation.
“The reasons that the left, the Democratic Party (are supporting the bill) are not based on facts. … It’s fiction. It’s not real,” Swope said.
For Swope, the Democrats supporting the bill are not protecting children and are instead disrupting childrens’ lives and family relationships.
“Leave the kids alone,” Swope said. “Let kids be kids and let parents parent.”
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, has also blasted the legislation. In a statement released in March, the Senate Republican leader said the bill would disenfranchise loving parents.
“A parent may not even know why the child ran away and could involve law enforcement or other groups in a desperate search — all the while going through an unnecessary emotional nightmare, imagining the worst about what might have happened,” Braun said. “It’s also wrong how this bill would apply to children from other states who may travel thousands of miles for services not available to them at home. Unless there is reason to suspect parental abuse or harm, parents deserve to know where their teenagers are. Democrats have claimed many times that the brains of minors are not fully developed until age 22. Right now, they are sponsoring a juvenile offender sentencing bill based on ‘the expansive body of scientific research on brain development, which shows that adolescents’ perception, judgment, and decision-making skills differs significantly from that of adults.’ It’s revealing how brain research matters to them when juveniles break the law, but not when they seek life-altering, potentially irreversible health care.”