Dear friends and neighbors,
As you know, the legislative session ended a couple of weeks ago. It was very fast-paced and there were some late nights and marathon floor sessions, including debating bills until sunrise on Sine Die weekend.
But it was all worth it because we adjourned right at midnight on April 28! It’s been a decade since the last time the Legislature finished on time in a budget year.
Did you hear? Last week U.S. News & World Report Magazine issued its 2019 Best States Report and it ranks Washington the overall best state in the nation. Last year we ranked 6th, which is still within the top ten, but nothing beats being number 1!
There are many good reasons for us to be ranked first place and in this newsletter you’ll find information on some of the policies we adopted this year to keep that top spot. For instance, expanding health care access and ensuring we can afford long-term care services as we age.
Another asset to our state is that we are committed to protecting our natural resources for future generations and that includes saving our Southern Resident killer whales from extinction.
On a different note, I am happy to share that, after several years of working on the issue of medical marijuana, two of my bills were finally signed into law.
And lastly, you’ll find information on a great bill to create jobs in timber country.
A lot happened in these 105 days, so instead of packing it all here and putting you on an endless scrolling venture, let’s make this the first of several end of session reports.
As always, be sure to contact my office with any questions or concerns.
We passed groundbreaking legislation to give Washingtonians who purchase healthcare coverage on the individual insurance market an option that will decrease the cost of premiums, copays and other out-of-pocket expenses. The plan, known as Cascade Care, is the first public health insurance option in the nation and will be available to all Washingtonians, regardless of income, who are not covered by employer health plans. Read more about Cascade Care here.
First in the Nation on Long-Term Care
For most families in Washington, caring for an aging parent is a significant burden since the monthly out-of-pocket costs can be in the hundreds or even thousands.
People are often surprised to learn that, when it comes to long-term care, Medicare only covers limited services such as skilled nursing. And to qualify for Medicaid, you’d have to spend down your lifetime savings. A historic bill, signed by the governor earlier this week, establishes the Long-Term Care Trust Act to help aging Washingtonians with the costs of certain activities such as bathing, dressing and taking medication, as well as rides to the doctor and even home modifications like a wheelchair ramp.
Protecting our Orcas while Helping the Economy
With only 75 of our iconic southern resident orcas left, this session the Legislature took into account recommendations from the Southern Resident Orca Task Force and passed legislation to help our big marine mammals survive.
For starters, we’re updating our state’s oldest environmental law –the hydraulic code– and giving it more teeth to protect critical habitat that that orcas –and the Chinook salmon they feed on, need to survive. We also secured funding in this year’s operating and capital budgets for restoration and acquisition of Chinook habitat.
We’re further ensuring a food source for our whales by increasing the number of salmon produced at hatcheries. I’m glad we got significant funding in the state budget to boost hatchery production of Chinook, as well as provisions to increase spill over the Columbia River dams to help juvenile fish survive on their way out to sea. These are important investments not just for the survival of our whales, but also for the economy in our region.
Along with growing the salmon population, we have to make sure the whales can communicate in order to find prey. The only way to do this is by reducing noise and disturbance from vessels to give orcas the space and quiet they need to find food. I sponsored the House version of this carefully crafted measure that balances the interests of both, business and conservation groups. We’re also requiring state boating education to include information on new rules, safe whale watching, and other actions boaters can take to protect the health of orcas.
Addressing the issue of vessels was crucial; check out this Seattle Times report on precisely how noise and speed are hurting our whales. We had to pass these bills, otherwise, pretty soon there wouldn’t be any killer whales to watch, and that would definitely kill the whale watching industry. Nobody wants that.
Lastly, we approved legislation to protect against oil spills, requiring tug escorts for small oil tankers and barges traveling across narrow straights within the San Juan Islands.
My Medical Marijuana Bills
When traditional treatment doesn’t work, it makes sense to explore other options, especially when it’s your child who is suffering.
That’s what prompted me to sponsor a bill to help a little girl in our district whose condition involves seizures and who only gets relief with cannabidiol, or CBD oil, a medical marijuana concentrate.
The measure requires school districts to allow students who are medical cannabis patients to consume cannabis-infused products in school, on school buses, or while attending school-sponsored events. Only the student’s parent or guardian will be able to administer the medical cannabis, and only at specific locations within the school grounds.
The other bill signed into law exempts a qualifying patient from having to be physically present when renewing registration in the Medical Marijuana Authorization Database if a health care professional finds that it would likely result in a severe hardship to the patient. This bill is about compassion, it just tries to facilitate the renewal process for people with physical or emotional difficulties.
Opportunity Zones = Jobs
The governor recently signed bipartisan legislation to create jobs in timber country. The new Washington Rural Development and Opportunity Zone Act directs a study on programs that could incentivize private investment and job creation in rural communities. Additionally, the Act supports one of the key rural economic drivers by extending the reduced Business and Occupation tax rate and surcharge on certain timber-related activities from 2024 to 2045. Furthermore, it adds mass timber—also known as cross-laminated timber—to the list of timber products that receive the preferential tax rate.