2021 Washington State Legislative Session Update

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The 2021 legislative session is unlike anything we have ever seen before. Our state lawmakers are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our state. From early learning to nursing homes, lawmakers are reviewing the policy and the fiscal impact the pandemic has created so far, as well as how to keep us safe into
the future.
We are seeing bills to expand telehealth access and funding. There are bills to expand the healthcare workforce by allowing the Washington Medical Commission to issue limited licenses to international medical graduates. Another bill reviews the list of disqualifying crimes, broadening opportunities to work with vulnerable populations. Multiple bills intended to improve oversight in hospitals and other long term care settings have been introduced. Legislation to better protect frontline workers was also introduced. All of these are in response the challenges brought forward by the pandemic.
Another piece of legislation was introduced to help manage what some refer to as the “double pandemic.”  They are referencing the plight of those living in congregate licensed setting such as skilled nursing or assisted living facilities. These facilities have been hit incredibly hard by COVID-19 and additionally, the residents in these facilities have been locked down with no visitors. House Bill 1218 among other provisions, would create into law an “essential support person” that every long term care resident would be entitled to identify and allow them to visit, even in the face of a public health emergency. The hope is that these visitors would provide the essential emotional support for residents who may be deteriorating while struggling with the separation from friends and family.
Of course, the economic impact of COVID-19 will also drive legislation. Since this is an odd number year, the legislature has an obligation to pass a biennial budget. Last summer the office of financial management was predicting nearly a $9 billion shortfall. On the bright side, the current economic forecast was above projections. However, even with the upturn many lawmakers consider this to be a tight budget year. One of the more controversial and highly watched proposal would be the creation of a capital gains tax in Washington. Washington is known to have a regressive tax structure that relies heavily on sales tax revenue.
Proponents of the tax say this will move Washington toward increased fairness in our tax system.  Additionally, they anticipate the increased revenue would “jumpstart our state economy and create thousands
of jobs.”
In addition to these challenges, session is being held as a hybrid of virtual and in person meetings. This has created many logistical challenges for lawmakers, staff, and lobbyists. It has also created opportunity for testimony from individuals who would otherwise be unable to attend meetings in Olympia. Session will wrap up on April 25 th and we will see what proposals make it into law and the final budget.

John Ficker
Executive Director
Adult Family Home Council

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