Friday, February 15, 2013

Pausing to remember

On February 19, 1942, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. With that penstroke, three generations of Japanese-Americans had their lives changed forever. Children, parents and grandparents -- the majority of them American citizens -- were removed from their West Coast homes and forced into what were then called "War Relocation Camps."  Today they are more-widley known as interment camps.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team hiking
up a muddy French road in late 1944.
Whatever you call them, the camps became de facto prisons for more than 110,000 legal residents of the United States for nearly three years during World War II.

Today, the House of Representatives took a few minutes to remember this injustice, and also to honor our Nisei Veterans.  The 442nd Infantry Regiment was almost entirely made up of  Japanese-American soldiers - and was the highest-decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. Army and was involved in liberating prisoners at Dachau and saving the famous "lost battalion" from Texas. 14,000 volunteers served their country with uncommon distinction, even though their families were being detained in the relocation camps back home.

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Rep. Monica Stonier both had family members in the camps, and spoke on the House floor today.  Here is an excerpt from  Rep. Stonier's speech:

"He [her great-grandfather] had 11 children to gather and calm when Exec. Order 9066 came. Four of his sons, at a time when their government failed them, put on the same uniforms of those who kept their family behind fences, and stepped forward, like the others from the 442nd in the galleries today.

When most families would have likely been fighting their interment and would have been fighting to get their rights back, many people – like my uncles, persistently showed their love for our country.

Mr. Speaker, this is the day we remember what can happen, even in a country as great as ours, when fear drives our actions."

Read this story in Spanish.

More COHEs: good for workers, good for employers, good for Washington

Among the huge workers' comp package we passed in 2011 was an expansion of the Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE) program so that all injured workers have access to a COHE by 2015, regardless of where they live.
COHEs are based in clinics and hospitals, and they provide education and financial incentives to more than 2,000 health care providers to encourage the use of best practices in occupational health. Funding from L&I supports health services coordinators who help with case management and getting appropriate services early in an injury claim.
A December 2011 study found that treatment by COHE providers reduced lost work days by nearly 20 percent and claim costs by $500 per claim.
There are currently 4 COHEs in Washington State:
When you have a work-related injury, the priority is to restore your health so you can go back to work. Research shows that returning to normal activity as soon as safely possible after injury reduces the likelihood of long-term disability. Developing goals for returning to work may improve your overall health and outcomes while protecting your income and benefits.
The COHEs offer training and resources to your doctor, but may also be able to help you plan your return to work. COHEs have Health Services Coordinators that work with doctors, employers, and with you to understand your restrictions and find work that you can do. Want to make sure your doctor is participating in the program? Contact the COHE. And you can also find out more about what L&I has to offer injured workers here.
But back to the expansion, according to a press release, right now L&I is seeking proposals from health care organizations interested in sponsoring new COHEs, they expect to select at least six COHE sponsors by April 19. 

Read this story in Spanish.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What the Affordable Care Act really means for small businesses in WA

Rep. Dawn Morrell
The coming years will bring many changes as Washington state takes the necessary steps to fully implement the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Washington is one of 21 states with approval from the federal government to move forward with our health care exchange on-time in October of this year.

This session we’ll continue this important work. Not only is it the fiscally responsible thing to do- it’s the right thing to do for families, businesses and public health. In the House, these efforts are being led by Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Chair Dawn Morrell and Health Care and Wellness Chair Eileen Cody.

Rep. Eileen Cody
However, these changes have resulted in some misinformation and confusion surrounding the ACA reforms- especially with regards to small business (businesses with less than 50 employees).
Thankfully, we’ve got Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to clear up the confusion. He outlines what reforms that have already gone into effect and what we can expect in coming years.

 ACA reforms already in place:

  • Tax credits of 35 percent if you offer health insurance, have fewer than 25 full-time workers, and you pay an average annual wage of $50,000.
  • In 2014, that tax credit goes up to 50 percent.

What’s coming in 2014:
  • If you have fewer than 50 employees, you’re not required to offer them health insurance. However, if you choose to offer health insurance, you could qualify for a tax rebate.
  • All health plans must cover essential benefits.
  • You can shop online for coverage through Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange and enjoy greater purchasing power, similar to large employers.
For a complete list of what health care reform means for individuals, families, seniors and large businesses, please visit the Commissioner Kreidler’s webpage on health care reform.

Read this story in Spanish.

Rep. Jake Fey joins governor, mayor in "Rededication" of Murray Morgan Bridge

Rep. Jake Fey
State Rep. Jake Fey will join Gov. Jay Inslee, former state Rep. Dennis Flannigan, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and several other local and federal officials in a "Rededication Ceremony" for Tacoma’s Murray Morgan Bridge Friday morning, Feb. 15, at 9:30. Lincoln High School's Drumline will provide music for the Rededication Ceremony, and Kurtis Kingsolver, the city's Public Works Interim Director, will emcee the morning's events.
Murray Morgan Bridge
(photo by Ben Brooks via Wikimedia Commons)
The Murray Morgan Bridge was built to replace an older swing bridge dating to 1894. Murray Morgan opened for business as the 11th Street Bridge in 1913 -- just 100 short years ago. Murray Morgan, a local author, historian and professor, was honored in 1997 when the bridge was renamed for him. He wrote Skid Road (his 1951 history of Seattle) while working as a bridge tender on "his" bridge.
The city's very recently rehabilitated Murray Morgan Bridge reopened for traffic just a few weeks ago.
"I was certainly very committed to helping save and restore our bridge when I was a member of the Tacoma City Council," Fey emphasized. "Murray Morgan is extremely important in maintaining the Downtown Tacoma-Port of Tacoma connection. The bridge drastically cuts travel time between these two pivotal parts of our community, and greatly increases emergency response time to the port."

Read this story in Spanish.

Washington students can attend a "Capitol Classroom"

Representative John McCoy recently appeared on a new TVW program called Capitol Classroom. The TVW program included a discussion of an important legislative proposal advanced in McCoy's House Bill 1107, which concerns children of military parents.

Capitol Classroom is a new educational program broadcast by TVW, our state's public-affairs network that was founded in 1993. The program allows students to personally join in the legislative process by way of these video connections. Young people communicate directly with the lobbyists who testify in committee hearings on their behalf for legislation that the students have selected. The young men and women involved in the program also hear perspectives from:

  • Bill sponsors, such as McCoy.
  • Other bill proponents, as well as opponents.
  • And their local legislators.

The bill reviewed on the latest episode of Capitol classroom has received a public hearing, and is awaiting a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. McCoy's bipartisan measure concerns residential provisions for children of parents who have military duties. He wants to make it less cumbersome for military parents to seek delegation of residential time with their children when they are on a temporary-duty assignment that involves being away more than one night during scheduled residential time or visitation.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rep. Cody receives AMA’s highest honor

Our very own Representative Eileen Cody received the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Public Service by a State Legislator last night in Washington, D.C.

The Davis Award is the AMA's highest honor for government service in health care. It is named after the AMA's founder and recognizes the work of elected and career officials in federal, state and municipal service whose contributions have promoted medicine and the betterment of public health.

“Rep. Cody has led efforts toward improving health care access for low income individuals and transforming mental health services in Washington state,” said AMA Board Chair Steven J. Stack, M.D. “Her dedication to public health has also earned the state national recognition for its long term health care services and support system.”

Rep. Cody was nominated by former Governor Gregoire for the award. Rep. Cody has been twice previously recognized by the Washington State Medical Association as Legislator of the Year. The WSMA noted Rep. Cody’s previous efforts to advance public health in our state.

When she's not being honored by national organizations, Rep. Cody works as a nurse at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and serves as chair of the Health Care and Wellness Committee.

In the legislature, Rep. Cody has worked for improved patient safety, mental health parity, public health services and to restore the universal purchase of vaccines.
More recently, she has led efforts to implement the federal Affordable Care Act at the state level. Largely because of her work, Washington is one of just six states ready to implement the health benefits exchange on-time in 2014.

Photo: Rep. Cody with (at left) Terry Moran of ABC News and AMA Board Chair Steven J. Stack, M.D. Photo courtesy of the American Medical Association.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A solution looking for a problem

Rep. Ruth Kagi
As of last year, 19 states require drug testing or screening of applicants or recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the cash assistance commonly referred to as "welfare."  Washington is not one of them.  Does this mean taxpayers are subsidizing drug habits in our state?

Actually, we have a pretty good system already in place to identify and address substance abuse issues in those who apply for TANF benefits.  Our caseworkers identify clients with potential substance abuse problems, and refer them for assessment and, if necessary, treatment.

These referrals are not simply polite suggestions.  Clients who refuse to participate in the assessment and/or treatment process are "sanctioned," which means their assistance is reduced by 40 percent.  At the end of the sanction period, if they still do not comply with treatment, they lose their assistance entirely.  In other words, our state can and does cut people off assistance if they have a substance abuse problem and do not get treatment.

In fact, last year an average of 2300 families were sanctioned per month, and around 3700 families each month completely lost state assistance.  Not all of these families were sanctioned or terminated due to substance abuse - these numbers include all reasons for reduction or loss of assistance, including not meeting job search requirements.  But it shows we're serious about ensuring people play by the rules.

Adding an actual drug test would only add cost and bureaucracy - neither of which is in the taxpayers' best interests.  And since the majority of TANF recipients are children or families with children, sanctions and terminations have a very real effect on child poverty in our state.  We already have over 27,000 homeless children in our schools. 

Last week, House Early Learning & Human Services Committee chair Rep. Ruth Kagi went on TVW's The Impact to discuss the issue of drug testing TANF recipients.  You can view the entire segment here, but she makes her main points in the clip below:

Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Want to add your two-cents to the charter school process?

Washington voters approved the creation of public charter schools in our state with the passing of Initiative 1240 last November.  The State Board of Education (SBE) has started work on timelines and rules for opening these alternative schools, and they want to hear from you as they move forward.

The SBE is holding a public hearing on draft rules pertaining to our state's first charter schools at their February 26 meeting in Olympia, and you are invited!

 But you don't have to attend the meeting in order to participate - you may offer comment by writing to them directly at

Here is more information on the public charter schools and the ongoing process.

Read this story in Spanish.

The state of gun laws

​Washingtonians have been flocking to local law enforcement offices to acquire permits to carry concealed weapons, according to a recent news report. Gun sales, too, are booming in the state. The surge in demand in both cases likely arises from fear of impending restrictions on gun ownership in the aftermath of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Gun laws vary widely from state to state. In Washington, the state constitution – in Article I, Section 24 -- includes a stronger and less ambiguous declaration of the right to bear arms than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides.
States have different rules about concealed-weapons permits, background checks and many other elements of firearms regulation. Washington, for example, is one of many states that requires no permit for the open (unconcealed) carrying of a handgun, while three states – Florida, Illinois and Texas – and the District of Columbia prohibit “open carry.”
Two national organizations that advocate tighter regulations – the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence – issue scorecards that grade the states on their level of firearms regulation, with more regulation generating a higher grade. In the latest Brady scorecard, Washington scored 15 out of 100, which actually placed well within the top half of scores nationwide (California was first, with 81). On the Law Center scorecard, Washington rates a “C” -- again, well within the top half of the class.
In 2008, the Law Center reports, Washington had the 15th lowest number of gun deaths per capita. Generally, the center says, there is a strong correlation between high grades on their scorecard and low gun-death rates.

Read this story in Spanish.