Judge throws out initiative that would ban supervised injection sites

A King County Superior Court judge ruled Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, Initiative 27, the county-wide ban on supervised injection sites, as invalid and prohibited it from being placed on the ballot. (KOMO File Photo)

SEATTLE -- Bellevue and Burien have become the latest King County cities to ban so-called supervised injection sites.

Bellevue City Council's voted unanimously Monday night to permanently ban the sites.

"I think this sends a strong message to King County that no, we don’t want this type of operation here in the city of Bellevue," Deputy Mayor John Chilminiak said before the vote was taken.

The permanent ban takes effect Thursday, October 26.

Also Monday night, the Burien City Council voted 4-3 to ban supervised injection sites in that city.

The votes come just hours after a King County Superior Court judge ruled Initiative 27, the county-wide ban on supervised injection sites, as invalid and prohibited it from being placed on the ballot.

Protect Public Health, a group of medical professionals and drug treatment advocates sued the sponsors of I-27 claiming the initiative violates the King County Charter regarding issues subject to a public vote.

Superior Court judge Veronica Alicia-Galvan ruled Monday that the initiative "extends beyond the scope of local initiative power."

In January, the King County/Seattle Board of Health announced it would approve a pilot program of two supervised injection sites where users of illegal drugs can self-administer their drug of choice in a clinic setting under the supervision of a health care professional.

The Seattle City Council has already said it welcomes a site, whereas seven cities county wide have already banned it.

The City of Seattle also joined the lawsuit with deputy city attorney Jeff Slayton arguing public health professionals should make decisions to solve in the current opioid epidemic.

But supporters of I-27 say the repercussions and unwanted criminal aspects of having a place where people using heroin freely affect the public and therefore the public should have a so-say at the voting booth.

"I do know that we’ll appeal this decision because we have the right and the obligation as I-27 to stand up for the people and let their voice be heard," said Joshua Freed, chief supporter of Initiative 27. Freed said he plans to meet with his attorney on Tuesday afternoon.

Supporters of supervised injection sites praised the court decision.

“This is a major victory for public health, and will allow us to take the steps we need to implement an effective harm reduction approach to help those suffering from addiction to get the help that they need.” Dr. Bob Wood, the former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County, said. “If I-27 was allowed to go to the ballot, other critically important and effective public health policies would also have been put at risk, including needle exchange programs, or even vaccination requirements.”

Also Monday, the King County Council voted to place a separate measure on any ballot Initiative 27 might quality for in the future, depending on what happens with the appeal.

"Whether you support CHEL sites. Whether you support some other approach, I think we need to have all hands on deck to do everything we can to try to help people to not become addicted in the first place and to help them get treatment and save their lives when they do," said County Councilwoman Claudia Balducci.

Right now, there are no plans to spend the money that’s set aside to build or open one of these sites unless a local jurisdiction says they want it, she said.

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