Thanks for following along with my series of end-of-session updates. You can view my previous updates here and here. In this issue, I summarize a number of new protections for workers and expansions to health care in our state.
Supporting Washington’s Workforce
I strongly believe in the foundations of justice, fairness, and equality, and strive to support families who make Washington their home and work hard every day. This year we passed several pieces of legislation that reaffirm Washington’s longstanding pursuit of equality and equity in the workplace.
Equal Pay Opportunity Act
Women make up almost half of the workforce, yet we continue to earn less than men do for similar work. Because of this disparity, women save less toward retirement, which means more women live in poverty in their senior years. Washington was one the first states in the Union to address the wage gap by passing the Equal Pay Act in 1943. For the first time since then, we added new provisions aimed at closing the gap between what women and men are paid by:
● Prohibiting pay secrecy policies
● Allowing discussion of wages
● Preventing discrimination by gender in providing opportunities
● Banning retaliation against workers who file complaints, discuss wages or seek advancement opportunities
● Ensuring workers are entitled to administrative and civil remedies in the event of violations
Fair Chance Act (Ban the Box)
More than one in five adults in Washington State—disproportionately people of color—have a conviction or arrest record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment. Checking the “yes” box on a job application indicating a prior arrest or conviction often eliminates a person from consideration. The Fair Chance Act will help ensure that these 1.2 million people are judged by their qualifications and work experience, and not reflexively rejected by employers at the start of the hiring process. The employment of people with conviction histories can improve the economy and benefit public safety through decreased recidivism.
The Fair Chance Act (HB 1298) will help achieve this goal. The law extends similar protections that we already have in Seattle to job seekers statewide. Like the Seattle ordinance, HB 1298 exempts employers hiring for a position with unsupervised access to children or vulnerable persons; employers, including financial institutions, that are required by law to consider criminal records; and law enforcement or criminal justice agencies. This new law will also provide a better chance at success for the next generation of Washington residents, as nearly half of all U.S. children have at least one parent with a record.
Strengthening protections against sexual harassment in the workplace
The #MeToo movement has helped to illuminate how pervasive sexual harassment is, and the impacts it has on the lives and livelihoods of women.
This session, the Legislature passed new laws to combat sexual harassment workplaces across our state:
● SB 5996 prohibits an employer from requiring an employee, as a condition of employment, to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevents the employee from disclosing sexual harassment or sexual assault.
● SB 6471 calls for the development of model policies to create workplaces that are safe from sexual harassment.
● SB 6068 sheds light on repeat sexual harassers by removing barriers to lawsuits created by non-disclosure agreements.
I’m grateful to be serving on a new workgroup to bring more transparency and accountability when workplace harassment occurs within the Legislature itself. The House workgroup should recommend reforms in the coming months.
Healthy Families, Healthy Communities
The threat of repeal of the Affordable Care Act, along with other federal attempts to diminish the law, have led to an uncertain future and increasingly unstable markets. Our long-term care infrastructure is threatened by the “age wave” and needs to be reinforced. Rural and under-served communities struggle with a lack of healthcare professionals. And, the opioid overdose crisis continues to grow. As Vice Chair of the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee, I took particular leadership on policy and funding to protect vulnerable people and improve access to healthcare across our state.
Banning conversion therapy
So-called “conversion” therapy uses a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. It doesn’t provide counseling that promotes acceptance, support, and/or understanding. It is fundamentally harmful to children who deserve love, not rejection, and has been associated with increased risks of suicide and depression among LGBTQ young people. I was the prime sponsor of the House version of this legislation, and was grateful to partner with Senator Marko Liias, who has devoted many years to this cause. With the passage of SB 5722, Washington joins a growing number of states banning this harmful practice. Love trumps hate.
Keeping services covered under the Affordable Care Act
Because of the Affordable Care Act, access to preventive services has increased for all age groups and the data show it saves lives and improves health throughout all stages. While the other Washington debates repealing the ACA, HB 1523 requires that the current ACA preventive service coverage remain in health plans at the state level. Healthcare should not be compromised by politics.
Reproductive Care for All
Ensuring reproductive freedom is a core value that I hold dearly. While many states and even the federal government are taking steps to limit reproductive rights, Washington state has finally approved the Reproductive Parity Act, SB 6219. The new law protects a woman’s right to make our own healthcare decisions and requires insurance plans to offer full coverage for reproductive health.
I hope to continue work in 2019 on two related bills I introduced this session which did not pass. HB 2909, the Reproductive Health Access for All Act, would ensure coverage of the full range of reproductive health services for all Washington residents, including transgender people and all immigrants. HB 2482, the Protecting Patient Care Act, would ensure that healthcare providers are able to deliver information, referrals, and services that are in the best interests of their patients, including abortion care and death with dignity. For patients living in rural areas, patients with limited finances, and patients who lack mobility, these barriers to essential healthcare can be insurmountable and life-threatening.
Expanding access to community mental health services
In recent years, Washington’s behavioral health system has been in crisis, with the state on the losing end of lawsuits over access to mental health services, and at risk of losing Medicaid funding for patients at Western State Hospital. Last year we made major budget increases to help solve these problems. We continued that work this year with a $306 million behavioral health investment plan, including $65 million in new investments toward Community Behavioral Health capacity; $4.2 million to address the state’s opioid overdose crisis; $58 million for construction, renovation, and upgrades at state facilities; and $24 million for supportive housing for the chronically mentally ill.
Responding to the opioid addiction and overdose crisis
Striking the right balance between ensuring patients have access to the care they need and minimizing the risks of misuse and addiction is difficult. We enacted a new statewide drug take-back program (HB 1047), so that unused opioids and other prescriptions can be disposed of safely. We made a number of new investments to expand access to Narcan/Naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses, and for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), a proven approach to reduce the risk of overdose and minimize opioid use. We also increased support for the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, a key tool for doctors and pharmacists to improve patient care and stop prescription drug misuse.
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Thanks again for following along as I send these end-of-session updates. It’s an honor to serve as your State Representative. Please keep in touch about the issues that are important to you.