Posts Tagged ‘2014 legislative session’

Legislature Kicks the Can to 2015

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

By Pam Crone, PSARA Lobbyist 

The word on the street prior to the 2014 legislative session was “keep your expectations low,” but that’s not PSARA. We had high hopes. Finally emerging from the Great Recession, it was time to get on with passing legislation that serves the needs of the majority of Washington residents.

Our Legislature alternates 105-day “long” sessions with 60-day “short” sessions. Last year in overtime we passed an operating budget for the 2013-15 biennium. We understood that this year a short session would be one of tweaking that budget without major new spending. So PSARA carefully crafted a modest, but important policy and budget agenda.

Here is how it panned out.

First, we stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the Washington Work and Family Coalition led by the stalwart Marilyn Watkins to advance paid safe and sick days legislation. And advance we did! Last year the House Labor & Commerce Committee had a hearing on HB 1313, but the bill never even made it to the House floor for a vote. This year we not only got it to the floor, but we passed it.

The Senate was another story. We showered our senators with emails, phone calls and visits on Lobby Day to get a hearing in the Senate. Our advocacy paid off, and we got a hearing. But that was the end. The bill was killed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Next year we will work to advance a bill all the way to the Governor’s desk. We want to make sure workers don’t have to lose a day’s pay when they are sick or taking care of a sick child or parent. This is a choice no one should have to make.

Second, we advocated relentlessly for the Federal Basic Health Option (FBHO) brought to us as part of the Affordable Care Act by our own Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman Jim McDermott. The FBHO would assure that no one would fall through the cracks in accessing the healthcare they deserve. Healthcare shouldn’t break the bank. Working with the Healthy Washington Coalition, HB 2594 drew farmers, students, low-wage workers, and immigrants to tell their stories in a well-attended hearing in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

We fought the good fight and along with Healthy Washington Coalition we successfully passed the bill off the House floor. But once again, we were thwarted in the Republican-controlled Senate. We will continue to advocate for healthcare for all. We will find a way!

Third, we worked with the Healthy Washington Coalition to introduce a bill that would require large employers to share responsibility with taxpayers in funding Apple Health (Medicaid). Too often, some large employers shift the cost of providing healthcare coverage to the state without helping out. We will be talking about this issue for years to come. This year we helped to spearhead the effort to start the conversation.

Fourth, we advocated along with our allies in the Senior Lobby for funding of a long-term care financing study that would have examined new models for financing long-term care including public and private options. We lobbied both Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass a bill off the House floor that would have examined how we are going to pay for the care and support of Washingtonians as they age. The Supplemental Budget that was passed failed to fund the study. Once again, we will have to come back to the legislature to begin the process of addressing the looming crisis of funding long-term care for the growing senior population.

We have Sen. David Frock and Rep. Steve Tharinger to thank for saving the Office of Public Guardianship. Without these compassionate leaders we would have lost funding for public guardians for vulnerable low-income seniors and others lacking decision-making capacity who have no friends or family to look after them.

If the 2014 legislative session is remembered for one good thing, it will be the passage of the Dream Act. Nothing was more delightful and heartening than to cheer with the “Dreamers” who now will be eligible for financial aid for college tuition along with their classmates because Governor Inslee signed the Act into law.

In 2015, we will once again roll up our sleeves to get the job done. We expect the same of our Legislature. It will not satisfy us to see bills pass in the House only to die in the Senate. All 98 seats of the House of Representatives and critical Senate seats are up for election. Together let’s make our Legislature accountable for its successes and failures. We need a legislature that will address the funding needed for our education system, transportation including transit, and infrastructure. Let’s work to elect a workable Legislature that passes public policies that make the lives of the majority of Washington residents better.

PSARA & the 2014 Legislative Session

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

By Robby Stern 

PSARA has increased its presence in Olympia as we try to influence the direction of state policy and budget decisions. By contracting with PSARA member Pam Crone, a well known and effective lobbyist, we work with allied organizations to push a progressive agenda. But we can anticipate, with the Senate in the control of a very conservative Republican majority, that we will be opening the door for future sessions rather than winning major victories.

Nevertheless, our philosophy is stay on the offensive and also mount the inevitable sturdy defense. We have three primary policy goals for this session. In addition, we will advocate for several budget items in the supplemental budget.

Policy Item 1: The legislature should pass legislation providing Paid Sick Days for workers statewide. Our family members need to be eligible for paid sick days to care for an elderly parent, a sick child or a spouse. Workers should not have to choose between working sick or losing a day’s pay. They should not have to make the choice of caring for a loved one at the expense of a pay check. Paid sick days are essential for the public health of all Washingtonians.

Policy Item 2: Senator Cantwell was able to insert in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) a health care program known as the Federal Basic Health Option (FBHO), modeled after Washington’s BHP. This program would allow people between 138% % and 200% of federal poverty (single person $15,300 – $22,980; family of two, $20,630-$31,020; family of three, $25,980-$39,060) to purchase affordable health care with significant subsidies. The FBHO would also provide a health care option to documented immigrants who are deemed ineligible for Medicaid.

The vast majority of Washingtonians below 138% of poverty are eligible for the expanded Medicaid (now called Washington Apple Health). However, many eligible Medicaid recipients go up and down the income levels, sometimes earning under 138% and sometimes earning more than 138% in any given twelve month period. The FBHO would allow low-income Washingtonians to maintain access to care and continuity of care since the providers in the Washington Apple Health system would also be providers under the FBHO.

The legislature should pass legislation authorizing Washington to participate in the FBHO. Until the FBHO is implemented, the legislature should allow people on Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), once they qualify for Medicaid, to remain eligible for twelve months. Presently, children who qualify for Washington Apple Health are eligible for twelve months. But adults must re-qualify monthly. The same qualifying standards should be applied to adults as apply to children until the FBHO is operational in Washington.

Policy Item 3: There is a loophole in the Affordable Care Act that allows the lowest wage large employers to shift the cost of health care coverage for their employees onto the Medicaid system without a penalty for those employers. These workers earn so little from their employers that they qualify for Washington Apple Health. The legislation we support would require these large employers to contribute to the cost of Medicaid which would also save money for the General Fund.

In addition, the following are what we want as part of the Supplemental Budget:

-Allocate $400,000 for a Long-Term Care Financing Study that will examine new models for financing long-term care. Many people needing long-term care must impoverish themselves to be Medicaid eligible and thereby get access to the care they need. Additionally, the cost of private long-term care insurance is beyond the means of most people. The study would look at public and private options for financing long-term care.

-Restore the Housing Trust Fund to $100 million to assist in the provision of low-income and affordable housing.

– Restore funding for Medicaid funded home care services to offset the impact of the approximately 15% cuts to these services since 2008.

-End corporate tax breaks that fail to produce more revenue to the state than the cost of the tax loophole. Reform the tax break system so all tax breaks have expiration dates and accountability requirements.

-Support restoration of full funding for the Public Guardianship Program.

Should other progressive issues emerge during the legislative debate (like the State Bank), PSARA will support those policy initiatives.

PSARA members will have the opportunity to influence the legislature. Our lobbyist will let us know when it is timely to send emails to our legislators. If we have your email address, we will contact you. In addition, we are setting up meetings with as many legislators as possible prior to the session. We will be participating in Senior Lobby Day on Feb. 20th. All PSARA members are invited to join us when we travel to Olympia and talk directly with our legislators about their support for our issues.