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Legislation focused on safeguarding runaway youth seeking protected health services clears state House

If it receives final approval from Gov. Inslee, licensed shelters for runaway or homeless youth would not need to contact a youth's parents in some situations.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Legislation focused on protecting youth seeking protected health services such as gender-affirming treatment and reproductive health care cleared the Washington state House on April 12.

Senate Bill 5599 passed the House with a 57-39 vote, with two excused. 

If the bill receives final approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, licensed shelters for runaway or homeless youth would not need to contact a youth's parents if there is a "compelling reason not to." That includes a youth seeking protected health services.

"If a young person is totally estranged with their parents, has no meaningful relationship. We need someone to care for that child and the way that legislation is set up is essentially the Department of Children Youth and Families will step into that position to care for that child so that you have somebody looking out for their benefit,” Inslee said.

Additionally, the legislation would allow host homes to house youth without parental permission if a person is seeking or receiving protected health services.

Under the state's current law, if an overnight shelter or licensed organization shelters a runaway youth without parental permission, it must contact the person's parents within 72 hours unless there are compelling reasons not to. Compelling reasons include circumstances that would lead to the youth being subject to abuse or neglect. 

The legislation allows certified shelters to contact the Department of Children, Youth and Families in lieu of parents in additional instances, such as when a youth is seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care.

Bill sponsor Sen. Marko Liias said the legislation is "ensuring people across the state have a roof over their heads during an already challenging period in their life."

“While we hope that every child has a supportive family that will provide them with acceptance and the care they need, it’s crucial that we provide housing options to those in crisis,” Liias said. 

Opposers of the bill say current laws already outlaw abuse and this would take too much power away from parents.

"We certainly want to protect children, but we think this bill goes too far in taking loving parents away from important significant decisions that parents are making,” Washington Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said. "That is in the bill that if a teen runs away and a loving parent is trying to find where their teen is at, the state will not tell them and as a parent that is terrifying.”

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