Happy New Year and Improving Public Health in Washington

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! It’s an honor to once again represent the 3rd Legislative District – the heartbeat of the Inland Northwest – in the state Legislature. Now that election year activity restrictions are lifted, you’ll be hearing from me regularly with updates on my work for you, our district, and our state. My legislative website and Facebook page are also active once again.

Caucus leadership elections and committee planning for the 2021 legislative session have recently taken place. When session begins on January 11, I will once again be serving as Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly, and as a member of our leadership team, I will continue to be a champion for Spokane-area values, for family-wage jobs, support for small businesses, and a health care system that keeps our families safe. It’s going to be a challenging session and I am ready to get to work.

Since I last wrote you in May a lot has changed, but unfortunately a lot has stayed the same. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our state and our nation. Yesterday, 1,311 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Washington State. Here in Spokane County 147 people tested positive. I am confident that with the vaccine we will be able to get back to our normal lives and rebuild our economy from the middle out, but we still have a long way to go before we get there. In the meantime, we all need to pull together and save as many lives as we can.

Improving public health boards

Our current public health system isn’t working for everyone. Rural and underserved communities need help, and we’ve seen firsthand in Spokane what happens when politics is put over public health in a pandemic. That is why I am working with Governor Inslee to sponsor legislation to standardize and bring accountability to public health boards. I joined him last week at his press conference introducing these proposals as well as his 2021-2023 budget.

It’s time for us to recognize that diseases don’t care where you live or what county you are in. By creating stronger public health districts focused on accountability and effectiveness, this bill will help make sure that our public health system is serving everyone in Washington state. We need to put public health and people first in these difficult times. We know public health is our first line of defense and it is underfunded. Everyone deserves a fair shot to thrive regardless of the zip code they are born in.

Furthermore, local health jurisdictions are overseen by boards in which the majority of members do not have direct experience in public health or healthcare. In Spokane, the 12-member board of health includes three Spokane County Commissioners, three Spokane City Council members, two Spokane Valley City Council members, one elected official representing small cities and three citizen representatives who are appointed by commissioners. This has led to too many decisions in which politics are infecting our public health. Local public health department leaders and workers have resigned, retired or been fired. I believe the firing of our health officer left our community vulnerable in the midst of a pandemic. I intend to introduce legislation to balance health boards with an equal number of non-elected people with public health or healthcare expertise and elected officials. You can read more about the issue here, and I look forward to sharing more about this proposal with you.

If you have questions or comments about legislative issues or need help connecting to resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact me.

It’s an honor to serve you.

Representative Marcus Riccelli

3rd Legislative District – Spokane