Washington State Now Gives Legal Protection to Sponsor-Sponsee Recovery Relationships

Mar 31 2016

Washington State Now Gives Legal Protection to Sponsor-Sponsee Recovery Relationships

People in treatment and recovery from addictions to alcohol and other drugs have just received some first-in-the-nation legal protection in Washington State.

The state legislature enacted a law this week to protect sponsors from having to testify against their sponsees in civil proceedings—essentially giving this relationship the same legal protection that already exists between spouses.

The legislation, believed to be the first of its kind, comes at a time when concerns about patient privacy are being hotly debated.

The sponsor-sponsee relationship is a traditional element of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the nation’s largest recovery fellowship. However, the wording of the law—which applies to any “person participating in an alcohol or drug addiction recovery fellowship” and defines a “sponsor” as anyone “providing guidance, emotional support, and counseling in an individualized manner”—seems broad enough to potentially apply also to other treatment settings and other recovery programs, such as Smart Recovery or Moderation Management.

Despite passing with widespread support, the Washington bill was originally vetoed (along with over two dozen other bills) by Governor Jay Inslee. The governor was apparently upset the legislature had not passed a supplemental operating budget and wanted to send a message. But the veto was overridden this week and the bill is now law (in case you were worried, they also passed that operating budget).

It’ll be interesting to see whether other states now move to offer the same protections.