House passes bill stemming from 'Sobriety for Sale' investigation

The Washington House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 5705 on Wednesday targeting settlements and reduced violations at some of the state’s 570 drug and alcohol treatment clinics.

The legislation stems from KING 5’s Sobriety for Sale investigation of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

The investigation revealed that the DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR) reached settlements or dismissed violations against clinics that were accused of corruption or other wrongdoing.

Records showed that DBHR settled cases when treatment clinic owners or their lawyers threatened legal action against the penalties.

SB 5705, sponsored by Senator Randi Becker (R-Eatonville), decrees that DBHR cannot reach settlements and reduce violations for the purpose of reducing liability.

Sen. Becker said that such agreements put the public’s safety at risk.

In more than a year-long series of reports, KING 5 exposed a half dozen licensed clinics that courts use for treatment of drug or alcohol addicted clients.

Counselors at these clinics were accused of accepting cash bribes from their addicted clients.  In exchange, the counselors would report to the court that those clients were in compliance with their required treatment – even though the defendants were not attending their counseling sessions.

KING 5 reviewed records showing that DBHR often had evidence of corruption inside these clinics, but took little action against counselors or owners.

In particular, Sen. Becker was concerned by repeat DUI offenders who may not be getting the help that they need.

The House-approved bill includes some amendments, so now it goes back to the Washington Senate, which overwhelmingly approved the original bill.  From there, it would go to Gov. Inslee's desk.

Since the original investigation aired, DBHR and the DSHS have opened investigations against all of the clinics and counselors named in the series.

One clinic owner named Clarence Farmer has been charged with unprofessional conduct for allegedly accepting a nearly $2,000 bribe and for falsifying an insurance claim.  Farmer closed his Tacoma clinic, called A Change Counseling, and now operates clinic called A Fresh Beginning in Spanaway.

Farmer denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the charges.

© 2017 KING-TV


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