For a brief moment, it looked like something halfway decent might come out of Olympia's legislature, which ended a special session last week with nothing to show for itself. During the 2001 session, legislators were actually contemplating reducing prison sentences in exchange for mandatory drug treatment. Evidently, political ideology got turned on its head as police officials and area prosecutors backed drug treatment as a necessary and pragmatic way to fight the war on drugs ["Change Your Meds," Phil Campbell, January 18]. In fact, it was a Democrat who almost killed the bill in the state senate over fears of the bill's fiscal ramifications.

In the end, though, the world righted itself. House Appropriations Co-Chair Barry Sehlen, a Republican from Skagit County, killed the bill by refusing to let it onto the state house floor for a vote. (Sehlen wouldn't return The Stranger's phone calls.)

The concept was simple: The state would try the more liberal idea of reducing prison terms for some nonviolent drug offenders. The money saved from unused prison beds would be spent on creating and expanding drug treatment programs across the state.

The bill's biggest advocate was Senator Adam Kline (D-Rainier Valley), who worked behind the scenes with legislators and lobbyists to find a workable compromise. Kline's last-minute meeting with Sehlen failed, but Kline managed to stay optimistic when asked about the future of drug treatment legislation. "We're going to do it next year," he chimed. Kline and other drug-treatment supporters are hopeful that their position will be strengthened by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which is coming out with a comprehensive study regarding the streamlining of the state's prison system.

Don't be too sure. Next year is a key election year--all the state representatives and many of the senators are up for reelection. "Radical" legislation like lowering prison terms in favor of more drug treatment may not be greeted well by politicians fearful of looking soft on crime.