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Mental health bill in response to murder-suicide considered in Senate committee

by caprecord

Karri Kennison told a Senate committee Tuesday about the day she learned of her daughter’s death. Kennison was playing with her grandson when she got a notification on her phone from a local TV station. It said that there had been a shooting at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane in the cancer center lab.

“I knew that there was only one person in that lab,” she said. “And that was my daughter.”

Sheena Henderson (Photo via the Sheena Henderson Memorial Page on Facebook)

In 2014, Sheena Henderson was fatally shot by her husband Christopher Henderson before he turned the gun on himself.

On Tuesday, Sheena’s mother testified at the Senate Human Services Committee in support of a bill she said would prevent situations like that from happening again.

Two months before Kennison’s son-in-law killed her daughter, he threatened suicide and had his gun taken away by the police. “The night before he shot Sheena, he got it back somehow,” she said.

House Bill 1448 would require law enforcement officers who respond to a threatened or attempted suicide to notify a designated mental health professional. Mental health officials can then determine if the suicidal person should be involuntarily committed. Police must make the notification within 72 hours “through notation in an incident report or by other means,” according to the bill.

The House passed the same bill last year, but it never made it to the Senate floor. Similarly, the bill passed out of the House this year on a 95-2 vote and is now going through the Senate committee process.

Sheena’s father Gary Kennison also testified in support of the bill, saying he hopes the Legislature can look beyond the cost. It would cost about $734,000 a year.

“Everything costs money in this world but I think the human factor and the human expense far outweighs the small investment that we will need to take,” he said.

James McMahan with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs testified in opposition to the bill.

“There are some implementation problems we think this poses for law enforcement agencies,” he said. “And some unrealistic burdens we don’t think we could meet on a day-to-day basis.”

He said he’s concerned about the notification requirement for the incident report and the 72-hour timeframe that comes with it. The bill assumes that “every incident report from every incident that every officer responds to is read by a human being,” McMahan said.

“As much as we would like that to be the case, that is simply not the case in virtually any department that I’m aware of,” he said. “That’s a huge challenge.”

Watch TVW video of hearing here.