Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been an exciting first month of the 2015 legislative session, and I wanted to give you an update on some of the latest happenings here in the Legislature.
Mental health reform has become a major topic of conversation recently in Washington state, which is why it was appropriate the first bill we voted on was House Bill 1258, also known as Joel's Law. Joel Reuter was a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by a police sniper in 2013 after he suffered a manic episode and fired a handgun at police. His family tried to get him involuntarily committed to a mental hospital before this episode happened, but they were unsuccessful.
Washington is one of seven states that does not allow family members of mentally ill individuals to petition the courts for their involuntary treatment. HB 1258 would change the law in this regard, which is a very important step to saving lives and improving our mental health system here in the state.
The other piece of legislation we voted on was House Bill 1105, the supplemental operating budget. I voted in support of the budget, which pays for more mental health treatment capacity, recovery efforts from the eastern Washington wildfires and the Oso landslide, children's services, and other emergency services. I was glad to see it approved by an 83-15 vote.
An update on legislation
I am the prime sponsor of House Bill 1556, which seeks to change the state's Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program to allow parents to buy more flat-rate college tuition credits for their children. The bill has bipartisan support, and I was pleased it received no opposition when it was brought before the House Higher Education Committee. I look forward to seeing this bill progress, because it will really help parents ensure their children aren't saddled with exorbitant debt upon graduating college.
Last week, I introduced House Bill 2039, which would encourage eligible students to use their State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship awards to complete two years of education at community or technical colleges (CTC) before using state aid to enroll in a four-year institution. Currently, students may receive as much as $10,868 per year in aid toward the University of Washington or Washington State University. By limiting their aid to $3,696 per year, the cost of tuition and fees at a CTC, the state would have enough money to fund tens of thousands more students who currently do not receive aid. I'm sure parents who have sent their children to a CTC for the first two years of college in order to save money will understand this common-sense idea.
Finally, I am glad to see House Bill 1219 gaining traction, as it was unanimously passed out of the House Transportation Committee. I am a co-sponsor of this important piece of legislation, which would expedite the permit and contracting process for repairing the state's structurally deficient bridges, while reducing costs in the process.
Flu vaccines and foster parents
One story that has been gaining traction is the new state law requiring would-be foster parents and their children to receive a flu vaccination before taking in foster children under two years of age. While the state's intent might be pure, it is tragic to me that such a barrier is forcing folks to forgo licenses and not take in foster children. Rep. Kagi, the chair of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, and I are in discussions with officials from the Department of Social and Health Services about suspending the law, and I'm hopeful we can come to an agreement. However, if we cannot, I am prepared to introduce legislation to change the law so we can get more children into quality foster care homes sooner.
In my latest video, I go into further detail about the foster parent/flu vaccine issue, and talk more about a couple of pieces of legislation I'm sponsoring. Take a look!
Your input is very important to me, so I want to hear from you as much as possible throughout session. If you have any comments, questions or concerns I can help address, please don't hesitate to email me or give me a call at (360) 786-7918. I am here to serve you.