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.