New law lets family ask judge to commit dangerous relative

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Family members will be able to ask a judge to step in if a mental health professional will not involuntarily commit a relative they believe could be suicidal or a danger to others under a measure signed into law Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee signed "Joel's Law" joined by Doug and Nancy Reuter, the parents of the man for whom the measure was named. Joel Reuter was suicidal when Seattle police shot and killed him during a standoff in July 2013.

"You have parents who have just been heartbroken to not have a tool to really adequately address the danger to their children," Inslee said after the signing. "This was a reasonable step to provide that measure of protection going forward."

Inslee signed the bill with a pen that used to be Joel Reuter's that had been handcrafted by his father. Nearby on the table was a hand-blown glass vase that Doug had also made for his son.

"This is an unbelievable day," Doug Reuter said after the signing, fighting back tears.

The couple, who often traveled from their Dallas home to Washington in support of the bill, testified in support of the measure earlier this year, telling lawmakers they repeatedly tried to get the state to force their son into treatment but were turned away.

Under Senate Bill 5269, a superior court judge can order detention if, after reviewing the family member's petition and a statement and other information from the mental health professional, the judge finds it is warranted.

Doug Reuter said that if the law had been in place in 2013, after two incidents months before the fatal shooting, including a suicide attempt, "we could have possibly gotten Joel the help he needed."

The bill was one of several bills related to mental health signed into law by Inslee Thursday, including a measure on suicide prevention and another that allows involuntary outpatient treatment following a court order. Doug Reuter said that Joel's Law, combined with the other measures, will "save dozens and dozens if not hundreds of lives in the state of Washington."

"To make this great of a leap in the area of mental health treatment is really amazing," he said.

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