Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After a public outcry regarding a lack of police accountability, the Legislature passed a broad package of legislation designed to improve trust between law enforcement and the community and to uphold the policing profession. In this GoodMinute, I will describe the legislation that we passed as well as efforts to implement it across the state.
Ensuring that our students have what they need to thrive
These past two school years have been especially difficult for students, parents and teachers. I saw the toll that remote schooling took on students, not only in terms of their academic achievement but also the adverse effect on their mental health. Now that kids are back in school – including my own children – they need all the support they can get. In this year’s legislative session, we did what we could to respond to the pandemic and ensure that students are getting the tools and guidance they need to succeed. Here is a look at some of the bills we passed to support our public school students:
HB 1365: Expanding access to digital tools
The pandemic highlighted the digital divide in our schools. Students need reliable digital access to meet their academic requirements. We passed House Bill 1365 to ensure that schools have the funds to provide students with needed computers and other devices and to provide school staff with the technology and training they need.
HB 1342: Eliminating school lunch copays
Hungry kids can’t learn. Prior to the pandemic, one in six Washington children lived in a food insecure household. During the pandemic that number has risen to one in four. School meals are an important source of food for many children and vital for ensuring that they have the fuel they need to succeed in school. The state provides many children with a reduced lunch for a small co-payment, but even that amount can stand in the way of hungry children getting the nutrition they need. In response, we enacted House Bill 1342, which retires the concept of school lunch debt and eliminates the required co-payment for families with students who are eligible for reduced-price lunch. No child in our public schools should go hungry or struggle to learn on an empty stomach.
HB 1208: Modifying the Learning Assistance Program to provide COVID flexibility
The Learning Assistance Program (LAP) provides additional support to struggling students. We passed House Bill 1208 to create more flexibility for LAP funds to respond to COVID-19, addressing learning loss and accommodating the return to in-person instruction.
SB 5030: Giving school counselors the time they need to serve students
The need for trained school counselors to address trauma, grief, anxiety and depression has bever been higher. Unfortunately, because of staff shortages, many schools assign their counselors additional duties such as proctoring tests or monitoring recess. We enacted Senate Bill 5030 to require that schools allow counselors to focus at least 80% of their work week on their primary counseling duties. This will ensure that counselors have enough time to meet their students’ needs. The Legislature still has more work to do, however, to provide the needed funds for many more counselors in the schools.
988—a new lifeline for crisis response and suicide prevention
We know to call 911 if there’s a fire or a medical emergency or a crime in progress, but when the emergency is related to a mental health crisis, or a person is at immediate risk of suicide, having a law enforcement officer show up may not be the appropriate response.
Police are not trained social workers or mental health professionals, nor do they want to be. Without a comprehensive crisis response system, people in crisis can find themselves in standoffs with law enforcement when they should be in the care of a counselor. People suffering from severe mental illness end up in jail or prison too often and are more likely to be involved in fatal police encounters.
Last year, a bipartisan Congress enacted the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, designating the number 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, paving the way for states to develop improved crisis response systems.
This year, I was proud to vote for HB 1477 to implement one of the nation’s first 988 systems here in Washington state. We are now in the process of creating robust 988 call centers to support people in crisis and ensure they receive the care they need, when they need it. These enhanced 988 services will coordinate with 911 dispatch, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement and behavioral health professionals to create a seamless system of care for those in crisis. I am very pleased to see Washington state lead the way in developing an effective crisis response system.
The Climate Commitment Act
In this year’s legislative session, we took a major step in combating climate change with the passage of the Climate Commitment Act. The Climate Commitment Act establishes a comprehensive, economy-wide program to limit greenhouse gas emissions, to reduce pollution in overburdened communities, and to make investments in clean jobs, environmental justice, and climate resilience. The program sets a statewide emissions budget (a “cap”) that applies to the largest polluters in the state, and gradually ratchets down that cap to meet Washington’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The program creates a market for polluters to buy and “trade” pollution allowances that will become increasingly expensive — an incentive to cut emissions.
This carbon pricing policy includes a variety of mechanisms to control the costs of compliance and impacts on consumers. I supported amendments in the House to strengthen our commitment to racial equity and environmental justice by adding a requirement to monitor air quality in communities that suffer disproportionate environmental and health impacts of pollution. This will ensure the benefits of the emissions reductions reach all of our communities. This historic commitment to combatting climate change puts Washington on track to meet our statutory goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and ensures that communities that have been the most harmed by pollution are centered in our response.
Long-Term Care Trust Act – Issues and Concerns
Long-term care is a critical, under-served need and it’s cost is prohibitive to many, and caregiver shortages are increasingly prevalent. The Legislature acted to address this need through the Long-Term Care Trust Act, a new statewide program to finance a system of universal long-term care. I enthusiastically voted to establish the Long-Term Care Trust Act as a welcome remedy to our elder care crisis.
Many of you have contacted me recently me to express concerns about this new long-term care program. I have since taken a critical look at the provisions of the program, and I share those concerns.
Beginning this January – only a month from now – workers must have a portion of their monthly incomes automatically deducted to help pay for the new long-term care program. There is a process to opt out of the program but it is only a one-time opportunity before the program goes into effect. Opting out requires enrolling in an alternative, private long-term care insurance plan, but only very few such private plans are available and they are very expensive.
Benefits under this new long-term care program will not be available for those nearing retirement because of a ten-year “vesting” period. Those who earn income in Washington but do not reside in the state are also not eligible for benefits. Those who have set their sights on retiring out-of-state will have no access to the Fund even though they will have been paying into the program for many years.
The purpose of the program is to allow older adults to remain in their homes and “age in place” to avoid much more expensive care in institutional settings. However, the lifetime benefit cap of $36,500 may not be sufficient to cover the cost of in-home care for any extended period.
My colleagues in the House are aware of these issues and we have established a task force to address the concerns. A federal lawsuit has also been brought, challenging the constitutionality of the program on equal protection grounds. I strongly support the concept of universal long-term care, so I sincerely hope we can restructure the program to make it sustainable, equitable and constitutional.
As the 2022 legislative session approaches, I encourage you to contact me with issues of concern to you. Thank you for the honor of representing you at the State House.
All best wishes,
Representative, 45th District
Washington State Legislature