STATE Sen. Mark Schoesler said last week it was unlikely the Senate would take floor votes on gun control and reproductive parity because he would rather see the members focus on a four-year balanced budget.
The Ritzville Republican and leader of his caucus might not be a natural multitasker but the truth is he doesn’t have to be. Lawmakers typically don’t get down to serious budgeting until a key revenue forecast. This year’s March 20 forecast is still a month away.
There is time to take up these and other important issues that can make a difference to constituents and the state’s bottom line. And they deserve hearings and votes.
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• Firearms and public safety: House Bill 1588 and Senate Bill 5711 would broaden the requirements for background checks for firearms sales. House Bill 1676 and Senate Bill 5710 encourage safe gun storage, especially when children are present.
The bills should receive hearings in the Senate, and stand for votes in both chambers.
• Reproductive Parity Act: A bill to protect existing insurance coverage for abortions after federal reforms take effect is in limbo. HB 1044 passed out of the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness and awaits a floor vote.
Senate Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says if and when HB 1044 comes to the Senate, it will get a full hearing in the Health Care Committee. He must keep this pledge since Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, so far has refused to schedule public testimony on the Senate’s own bipartisan version of the bill.
• Medicaid expansion: Washington cannot afford to miss the opportunity to provide health care for more people through the federal Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers must provide the budget authority to cover the state’s participation, and reach perhaps 350,000 newly eligible residents without health insurance.
• Mental health: Senate Bill 5397, which has not had a hearing, requires a clear set of expected outcomes for patients — such as reduced hospitalization and jail time, and increased work and quality of life — with the $750 million a year we spend on community mental-health care. It also calls for incentives to reward high-performing treatment providers.
Senate Bill 5480 would speed up a long-delayed expansion of the psychiatric crisis commitment law. It will require new funding, but creative use of court-ordered outpatient treatment could reduce costs.
The status quo — acutely ill psychiatric patients stranded for days in hospital emergency rooms — is wasteful and inhumane.
• Workers’ compensation reform: The Senate approved Substitute Senate Bill 5127, which would lower from 55 to 40 the age at which a worker in line for a state disability pension can swap it for upfront payments. This would save money for the state and add an option for those able to work in a different line. The House should follow suit.
• Sex trafficking: Senate Bill 5669 would toughen criminal penalties for buying sex from minors and expand the state’s rape shield law to protect victims testifying in court against their abusers.
• Public education: The Legislature’s biggest financial challenge is finding the money to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s order to ensure enough funding for public education. Lawmakers should see the challenge as an opportunity to leverage any new education dollars with smart reforms.
Expanding opportunities for low-income children in preschool and high-quality child care is the worthy intent of House Bill 1723 and Senate Bill 5595 and House Bill 1671.
Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, places an important spotlight on third-grade literacy with SB 5237, requiring schools to provide tutoring, summer school and other help for students unable to read proficiently by third grade.
The clock is ticking.
Time for action, not excuses.