People and their behaviors drive the legislative bus | Livingston

And sometimes the time bus feels driverless.

Each of us travels through time in an ego-centric reality. Some of us have a passion for public service and facilitating a collaborative and functioning society. Many of us prefer to complain about what public servants do, especially our elected officials because we want our belief systems to prevail.

Those who are in positions capable of making rules and establishing the processes by which we live have a responsibility to all, but that is open to interpretation based on the preferences of those serving in an elected capacity. No matter what gets done, it is like playing musical chairs – somebody thinks they are not included, it is not fair, or good enough.

At the May 11 Federal Way City Council meeting, State Sen. Claire Wilson and Rep. Jamila Taylor gave a presentation on the accomplishments of the recently concluded 2024 legislative session.

The depth and breadth of what was accomplished will be criticized in terms of nuance, never enough, too much, or what got done will not solve the problems. Regardless, we need to commend the efforts of 49 state senators and 98 representatives who passed 373 bills for the governor’s signature in sixty days. Many of the bills were passed with strong bipartisan support and 236 passed unanimously.

Most of us will never take the time to appreciate what got done because it is not in our wheelhouse to invest the time or understand the complexity of policymaking designed to serve, manage, and shape how a society operates. We usually take it on the word of a friend that those in charge did not do right by us.

I think we all need to check our feelings and belief systems once in a while and ask ourselves how would we solve the problems that are affecting our community or state. Take housing for example — it is a priority issue for our state. The Washington State Department of Commerce recently reported that the state needs an additional one million new homes over the next 20 years to meet current needs and accommodate population growth.

Our state and city will be dealing with this issue for years to come and affordability, density, employment needs, and changing generational characteristics will be at the forefront of what most communities will be managing. Local control will be important to managing a changing dynamic and it will require multiple legislative changes combined with budgetary support to help cities, counties and our state address its shelter needs and required ancillary support.

Think traffic and transportation, density, public safety, school demographics, classroom needs, diversity, health care, and cultural assimilation as a few of the issues. What would you do to make things better?

People and their behaviors drive the legislative bus and sometimes the time bus feels driverless. Rep. Taylor said at the meeting: “Our behavioral health system is entirely broken.” She reviewed several of the passed bills that are designed to begin addressing the state’s behavioral health shortcomings. Realigning people’s behavior requires greater investment and the legislature allocated one billion dollars to support behavioral health.

Behavioral health drives many of the challenges we face. Think homelessness, drugs, addiction, mental illness, and how families are affected as short and long-term pieces of the puzzle that need to be solved and legislatively tweaked as service knowledge is gained and needs are better understood.

Many of the behavioral health problems we have stem from drug use, addiction, and the need for treatment. The legislature set new penalties for gross misdemeanor possession, established the crime of public use of drugs, which is new, and created a system for pre-trial diversion with judicial oversight into treatment and services and appropriations for comprehensive treatment and support programs. A start, but it won’t be enough.

Prevention and treatment programs are essential to facilitating an individual’s or family’s recovery. Solving the drug use equation would be an ideal solution, but until then, the state passed SB 5853 which expands the state’s new system of crisis relief centers and adds separate facilities for minors.

Most recidivism occurs within 72 hours of release from prison due to immediate financial pressures and no clear plan for the next steps. Under SB 5893, the state addresses some of the immediate transitional needs by providing more financial resources and planning support in anticipation of release.

The state will be providing new resources supporting youth who are aging out of foster care at age 18 or age 21 if in college. Many of these young adults end up homeless because they are transitioning into adulthood without sufficient resources, life skills, and guidance. The state had no path or support plan for foster youth after leaving the system and SB 5908 addresses some of these issues.

This was an active legislative session and bills were passed to address catalytic converter thefts, a retail theft task force was created, full funding of police academies for recruits will lessen the financial burden to local communities, police pursuit constraints were lessened, and the list goes on. Many of our city council’s infrastructure requests were funded as well.

Legislatures rarely pass bills when things are operating with a sense of success. The process is driven by our failures and legislative changes are the results of what we are continually learning and it is a balancing act. The achievements from the recent legislative session are now open for critique because while success may be forthcoming it is still elusive, and requires constant nurturing.

The hardest thing to realize is that our elected officials are trying to manage people’s behavior — and people’s failures become collectively ours. They often overwhelm our systems before we can adequately react.

Steering behavior through laws is a never-ending challenge because people are dependably quirky and rebellious. People typically find ways to exploit systems and make them work for their benefit which keeps us involved in the game of improving our position one legislative session at a time. What gets passed may not always provide the outcomes desired, but we are obligated to keep trying.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at