AA Sponsor Confidentiality Protection Law Goes Into Effect In Washington State

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AA Sponsor Confidentiality Protection Law Goes Into Effect In Washington State

By Victoria Kim 06/30/16

The new law gives AA sponsors the same protection as doctors and lawyers in civil proceedings. 

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AA Sponsor Confidentiality Protection Law Goes Into Effect In Washington State

Sponsors can no longer be called on to testify in civil proceedings in Washington state, after a new law went into effect on Tuesday.

SB 6498 gives sponsors the same protection as doctors and lawyers when it comes to testifying in civil court. (This rule does not apply to criminal proceedings.) 

Sponsors—defined as individuals who provide “guidance, emotional support, and counseling in an individualized manner to a person participating in an alcohol or drug addiction recovery fellowship”—are now among the list of people who are allowed “privileged communication” like doctors, lawyers, counselors, journalists, and spouses. 

According to the bill’s sponsor and Senate Majority Floor Leader state Sen. Joe Fain, enacting the bill was a necessary step toward ensuring effective recovery among the increasing number of people in treatment for substance use disorder. “Drug and alcohol addiction is a growing problem in our region and today’s society,” Fain said in a statement. “One of the most effective treatment methods includes having a support structure in place where people can have open and honest conversations with those who want to help them recover. Providing additional protections for that relationship is key to effective treatment and will help people in need better address their addiction.”

The bill was initially vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee, but passed in March after the state legislature voted to override the governor’s veto.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn was among the bill’s chief proponents, having himself gone through a situation as a recovering alcoholic where his sponsor was subpoenaed in a civil proceeding against Dunn. His sponsor was ultimately not required to testify, but as reported by the Seattle Times, it made Dunn realize the importance of protecting the confidentiality of the sponsor-addict relationship. 

“It’s an incredibly important relationship and it’s an incredibly sensitive relationship,” Dunn told the Times. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop, if an attorney is successful, to get at all of the things a person regrets in their life. It has a chilling effect on those seeking recovery.”

According to Seattle attorney Katherine Kent, subpoenas against sponsors may still be sought, but it will be the attorney’s responsibility to demonstrate the need for overriding the privileged communication between the sponsor and recovering person.

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