The state House and Senate have approved identical bills that clear the way for Washington State University to start its own medical school.

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The Washington House and Senate have approved identical bills that clear the way for Washington State University to pursue accreditation for its own medical school.

Neither bill puts aside money for a new medical school, however; that is likely to be decided later in the session, when the Legislature passes a budget. WSU consultants have estimated it will cost between $1 million and $3 million a year over the next few years to begin the process of medical school accreditation at its Spokane campus.

Both WSU and the University of Washington are trying to get medical school money from the Legislature this session. While WSU wants to build a new school, the UW wants to expand a satellite program it runs in Spokane. It’s not clear if there’s money to do both, but most lawmakers seem to agree that the state needs to do something to increase the number of doctors practicing medicine in rural Eastern Washington.

UW officials have said they fear that another school could draw faculty, students and state funding away from its multi-state medical school program, which goes by the acronym WWAMI, for the names of participating states (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho). It has argued that a more cost-effective way to expand medical training is to increase the size of the UW program in Spokane. However, the UW did not oppose the bills that would allow WSU to go forward with its desire to open its own medical school.

Although both bills — Senate Bill 5487 and House Bill 1559 — are identical, one must be approved by the opposite chamber in order to be sent to the governor’s office for a signature.

Both amend a 1917 statute that divided the academic disciplines between the state’s two universities. The statute authorized the UW to offer degrees in law, medicine, forest products, logging engineering, library sciences and fisheries; and it authorized WSU to offer degrees in agriculture, veterinary medicine and economic science in its application to agriculture and rural life. The UW’s medical school was founded many years later, in 1946.

The bills each authorize the WSU Board of Regents to establish, operate and maintain a school of medicine. The Senate bill was approved 45-4, and the House bill passed 81-17.