Dear friends and neighbors,
As hard as it is to believe, we’ve already reached the first major legislative cutoff of the 2022 session! With over 2,000 bills introduced in the House—and over 1,000 more in the Senate—since this biennium began, these legislative cutoffs help ensure any bills we pass are given the attention and careful consideration they deserve.
Over the next few days, we turn our attention to legislation in House fiscal committees, like Appropriations, Transportation, Finance, and Capital Budget before the next cutoff on Feb. 7. And after that, we head to the House Floor for action all day, every day, until the house of origin cutoff Feb. 15. Make sure to follow along at home on TVW.org.
As strongly as we may feel about passing our top priorities, we always want to make sure that we’re making good policy—even if that means we have to continue the fight next session.
Note from Eileen:
As the Chair of the Healthcare & Wellness Committee, passing equitable and sustainable laws that lead to quality care is at the top of my priorities. This session, I have been focused on our healthcare staff shortage and improving our long-term care plan. Washington families deserve a healthcare system that provides high-quality medical care.
We CARE about your concerns: reforms to make WA Cares work for your family
In 2019, I helped pass the WA Cares program to provide long-term services and support benefits for our seniors and people with disabilities. Unlike private, corporate long-term care insurance, our long-term care program won’t cancel your coverage for no reason or deny you access due to pre-existing conditions. WA Cares is so important because it provides a social safety net that protects our families. We have to keep working to make sure WA Cares is the best it can be, which is why I worked with fellow lawmakers on some reforms and updates. Already signed by Governor Inslee, House Bills 1732 & 1733 address changes to our long-term care programs that meet the needs of Washington residents.
HB 1732 extends the program rollout by 18 months and delays collecting premiums from workers during that time. By allowing this extension, access to long-term care becomes more accessible to individuals who are closer to retirement. If someone is going to retire before they reach the original threshold (10 years), they can work 500 hours in a year and get 10% of the benefit for each year they work that amount. My goal for this bill is to ensure that any individual that meets the criteria for the program can qualify for long-term care and receive the long term care they need.
HB 1733 establishes voluntary exemptions from paying into the WA Cares Fund. Although WA Cares is a great program for families who do not have a plan for their long-term care, I acknowledge that some residents may not be able to access the benefits later and should be able to opt out of the payment premiums should they choose. These residents include military spouses that may only be in the state for a limited time period, disabled veterans who already receive benefits from the federal government, and border state residents who work in Washington but reside elsewhere. While I want everyone to have access to long-term care, these exceptions make logical sense.
Investing in future care by addressing the healthcare staffing shortage
Every state is facing a health care staffing crisis. Our healthcare workers are essential, and we must support them as they provide essential labor and public service for our communities. To address this shortage, I am working on HBs 1664 & 2007 to assist in increasing the healthcare workforce.
HB 1664, sponsored by Rep. Alicia Rule, increases the minimum allocations for school nurses and behavioral health professionals present in school districts. The bill amended in committee also requires public schools to always have one school nurse and one school counselor on site. This bill promotes a larger incentive for qualified individuals to go into this field and for schools to hire these essential workers. Not only does this bill address our present staffing shortage, but also provides an incentive to prioritize behavioral health resources within school districts.
HB 2007, from Rep. Vandana Slatter, also addresses our shortage of nursing staff. This bill establishes a nurse educator loan repayment program under the Washington Health Corps. Currently, there are 6,000 fewer nurses in the state than we desperately need, but colleges that teach nursing cannot enroll enough new students to close the gap due to the lack of nurse educators available to teach them. Nurse educators must receive an advanced degree which can include a massive amount of student loan debt. This loan repayment program encourages more nurses to go into education without being discouraged by the financial weight included in pursuing this degree.
From my experience working within healthcare, I understand how crucial it is to meet this need and will continue to work for high-quality healthcare on behalf of the 34th District.
Note from Joe:
As the Chair of the Environment & Energy Committee, my top priority is passing legislation to fight climate change and create a cleaner, greener future for Washington. We’ve seen some exciting bills in the Environment & Energy Committee this session that work to address greenhouse gas emissions.
Tackling our climate crisis with building decarbonization
One of my goals this session is to continue the great work we started last year to tackle one of the root causes of our climate crisis: burning fossil fuels in our homes and buildings. Our homes and buildings now generate nearly a quarter of our state’s climate pollution; and with the devastation of climate change at our doorstep, we simply can’t wait to get serious about addressing one of the last frontiers in our shared fight.
I’m proud to co-sponsor four bills my colleagues have introduced (House Bills 1766, 1767, 1770, 1774) to significantly reduce fossil fuel pollution from our homes and buildings—which are responsible for 25% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions—while creating a path to a clean energy future that ensures everyone has access to efficient, affordable, reliable energy.
Policy & Fiscal Committee cutoffs
Thursday, Feb. 3, marked the House Policy Committee cutoff, moving us into three and a half days of fiscal committee focused work. I serve on the Appropriations Committee where we consider the operating budget bill and related legislation, budget processes, and fiscal issues such as pension policy and compensation. We also consider bills with operating budget fiscal impacts. I’ve sponsored multiple projects to be considered as part of the Capital and Operating budgets this year.
One project I’ve sponsored is with Mary’s Place, located in Burien. This is a project for shelter replacement that will provide permanent affordable housing for families with children that are experiencing homelessness. While Mary’s Place currently offers emergency housing to families in need through the former hospital building located on their property, now they will be donating part of their 4.3-acre property in a partnership with Mercy Housing Northwest to develop 96 units for families, as well as making repairs to the hospital structure. Construction for this project is to begin in 2022/2023 and be completed in 2024/2025.
Another project I’m sponsoring is the Boulevard Park Sanitary Sewer Extension. This project is also located in Burien and will alleviate health and safety concerns caused by failing septic systems. This project is located in a long developed, lower-income, single family residential neighborhood, where most of the septic systems have already exceeded their 50-year life expectancy. Property owners in this area have informed the district that septic systems fail on a yearly basis due to storm water flooding. Additionally, many of the failing septic systems are located in wetland and wetland buffer areas. Untreated sewage from these failing septic systems flows into the wetland area, creating a public health and safety concern for local residents, plants, and animals alike. This project aims to create a sanitary sewer main that will result in a safer and more dependable sewage system. This project is scheduled to start in March 2022 and be completed in January 2024.
Thanks for reading!