Legislative bills fly around Olympia

Stanwood Camano News: Legislative bills fly around Olympia

Aim to help veterans, seniors and students

Representatives of District 10 in state Legislature have pitched a pile of bills, and the House of Representatives approved many of them in the past week. They won’t become law until approved by the Senate and the governor.

Bailey’s bills on aging, student loans

Over in the Senate, Barbara Bailey also had success passing several bills.

The Senate passed SB 5180 to re-establish a legislative advisory committee to review issues of importance to the state’s aging community.

“This committee has done valuable work to ensure that our state is prepared to deal with health, legal and community issues as a result of the age wave,” Bailey said.

The committee is tasked with developing strategic policies such as guardianships, health care and even transportation and land use as it affects aging populations.

“Our state needs to seriously understand … policies that impact our state’s aging population,” Bailey said.

As part of Bailey’s legislation aimed at aging issues the Senate unanimously approved SB 5177, which would require that long-term care workers be trained to recognize hearing loss in their patients.

“While this bill may not seem important to many, we must make sure our health-care professionals are trained to provide the care that patients will need,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s SB 5099 to stiffen penalties for crimes committed against vulnerable adults passed unanimously in the Senate.

The National Council on Aging estimates that one in 10 Americans aged 60 or above have experienced some form of elder abuse and one study estimated that only one in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

The bipartisan proposal would reduce barriers to prosecution and expand the scope of protection for seniors.

“My legislation would provide clearer direction to our prosecutors,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s SB 5022, the Student Loan Transparency Act, also received unanimous support last Tuesday and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. The legislation would require higher-education institutions to provide simple and concise information about the costs of borrowing, including the total amount of the loan, potential payoff amounts and monthly repayment amounts, including principal and interest, and the percentage of federal-loan limits a student has reached.

“The Student Loan Transparency Act will help students make better decisions about their educational-financing needs,” Bailey said.

Hayes proposes veteran, transient and child bills

A proposal from Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, to help veterans find jobs upon discharge from the military, gained unanimous approval in the state House and moved on to the Senate, as did many other bills this week.

Hayes’ House Bill 1369 would expand the definition of “veteran” in state law, as “a person who is in receipt of certain documents that characterize his or her service as ‘honorable.’” The definition of “veteran” is used as an eligibility requirement for various benefits, including scoring preference on civil service exams, assistance programs for down payments on homes, admission to state homes for veterans, and free license plate decals and plates for disabled veterans and prisoners of war.

Hayes wants the benefit to kick in immediately upon honorable discharge from the military, fixing a lag time between honorable discharge and civilian employment, when veterans are unable to claim hiring preference points.

“This legislation would fix the gap and help our veterans who are returning to civilian status to secure gainful employment sooner,” Hayes said.

The state House also approved a bill that Hayes proposed to allow officials to take action when transient accommodations become contaminated by hazardous chemicals.

House Bill 1757 would add “transient accommodations” to the list of properties subject to inspection, condemnation and decontamination when contaminated by certain hazardous chemicals.

Hayes said that bill was prompted by the inability under state law for the city of Burlington to evict residents from a local motel that was severely contaminated by methamphetamine.

“There had been nearly 600 calls to local law enforcement about this motel,” Hayes said. “Of the 42 rooms, 40 were severely contaminated by meth.”

When officials wanted to move the people out, they were told by the Skagit County prosecutor’s office they couldn’t legally do it because of the law’s current definition of hazardous chemicals, which requires manufacture on site.

The measure expands the definition of property used in the manufacture, distribution, storage or use of hazardous chemicals to include transient accommodations.

Hayes also had success with House Bill 1931, to improve reporting of child abuse and neglect.

While existing state laws require people in certain professions to report suspected child abuse and/or neglect to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and/or to law enforcement,

Mandatory reporters include DSHS employees, law enforcement officers, professional school personnel, registered or licensed nurses, social service counselors, psychologists, pharmacists, medical practitioners and licensed child care providers, among others.

Hayes said that some individuals have not been completely aware of their responsibilities under the state’s mandated reporter laws, putting children at risk of continued abuse.

This measure would require DSHS to publish on its website a downloadable, printable 8.5 x 11-inch poster that clearly defines requirements for reporting child abuse and neglect. The bill requires the poster to be clearly displayed in a common area of offices where “mandatory reporters” work.

“This is a very simple bill that would ensure children who have suffered abuse are not victimized in the future,” said Hayes, who is assistant ranking member of the House Public Safety Committee.

Smith seeks consent requirement, regulatory fairness

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, presented HB 1717, prohibits state agencies from obtaining a “biometric identifier” without first getting consent from an individual and providing notice of the purpose and use of the identifier, which is defined as any information converted, stored or shared based on an individual’s retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint or scan of hand or face geometry.

In all circumstances, state agencies would be prohibited from selling the identifier, and identifiers would not be eligible for disclosure under the Public Records Act.

“Ensuring our citizens’ data is safeguarded is a critical function of our state government,” Smith said.

Smith presented HB 1120 to address problems uncovered by an audit of Washington’s Regulatory Fairness Act (RFA). An audit that was released in December by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) found that state agencies were chronically noncompliant with RFQ requirements.

“The Regulatory Fairness Act was created to protect small businesses from burdensome regulations, but it’s clear it hasn’t been working as intended,” Smith said. “I am confident this bill will improve the regulatory climate for our state’s small businesses and ensure they receive the customer service they deserve as key drivers of our state’s economic growth.”

House Bill 1120 would do five things to curb ongoing RFA compliance issues.

First, agencies able to demonstrate a proposed rule would have no impact on small businesses would be exempt from completing a small business economic impact statement. Second, agencies proposing a rule that would only affect small businesses would be required to consider mitigation options to reduce the cost to small businesses.

Third, agencies whose proposed rules would impose more than minor costs on small businesses would be required to mitigate those costs, and fourth, the Office of Regulatory Innovation and Assistance would be required to assist agencies with meeting the RFA’s requirements. Finally, in June 2020, the SAO would be required to conduct performance reviews of agencies to assess their compliance with the RFA.

Approved unanimously by the House Thursday, these bills are all moving to the Senate for further consideration.

Larsen seeks benefits for veterans

At the national level, Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, and Republican Rep. Luke Messer, IN-06, are working together to reduce the financial burden on veterans seeking higher education by making application fees eligible under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“Veterans should not miss out on higher education because of the cost of application fees,” said Larsen, a senior member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Larsen also introduced a bill to help students access good-paying manufacturing jobs by creating partnerships between high schools, community colleges and state apprenticeships.

“By preparing students to immediately succeed in manufacturing and other STEM careers, this bill is a win-win-win for job seekers, the manufacturing sector, and the U.S. economy,” Larsen said.

According to a Boston Consulting Group, there are as many as 25,000 jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs in Washington state that are unfilled due to lack of qualified labor force.