E-News: We don’t need forced voting or an ‘extremism’ commission

Feb. 11, 2023

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

You may not have heard the term “silver tsunami.” It refers to the growing number of people in our state and nation who are reaching the age where they need specialized care at home – so many people that the caregiving industry could be swamped, as if it had been hit by a tsunami.

We know from a performance audit conducted last year that many who want to become certified as home-care aides lose interest and give up because of barriers related to training and testing. Because home care is such an important sector of our workforce, I introduced Senate Bill 5278 to identify and overcome the obstacles, which may be at multiple points along the curve. That’s why the bill not only calls out the Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services, but also the vendors who administer the tests.

The countless people across our state who already require home care are counting on us to get the training and certification challenges sorted out, so our state can have at least an adequate supply of home-care aides with the skills and knowledge to provide competent service. The co-sponsors of my bill are evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, which helps explain why SB 5278 sailed through the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee this week.

Just as The Seattle Times was reporting on my bill (click here for that), I learned a test site for home-care aides had recently opened in Vancouver. For the past several years the closest testing site was almost two hours away! While that’s progress, it’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to making sure the home-care sector can accommodate the needs of our seniors now and in the future.

floor action Feb. 8
Most of the Senate’s work is still happening at the committee level, with five weeks gone in this session. But we spent part of Wednesday “on the floor” — meaning the floor of the Senate Chamber. Later this month we will work exclusively on the floor for more than a week, on bills that were passed by committees.

Washougal, Camas, Bridge of the Gods lead requests for transportation funding
The state budget is often thought of as a single item when it’s really three separate budgets: operating, capital, and transportation. In the Senate, the operating and capital budgets both fall under our Ways and Means committee, and the transportation budget belongs to the Transportation committee. In the House of Representatives there’s a separate committee for each.

Last week’s e-news mentioned how I’ve been meeting with my Democratic counterpart to go through the governor’s operating-budget proposal, toward developing a Senate version of the operating budget. Those who lead the Republican work on the capital budget and transportation budget have been doing the same in recent weeks.

Another part of developing a budget is calling for and compiling requests for funding from individual legislators. Part of this week was devoted to assembling a list of transportation-funding requests related to our district. I’ve submitted that to the Republican leader on the Senate Transportation Committee, who will put them on the table with other requests.

My requests include more than $81 million for various transportation projects around Washougal’s Town Center development; $50 million to widen the West Camas Slough bridge on SR 14; $6 million toward a seismic retrofit and preservation work on the Bridge of the Gods (that would be Washington’s portion, Oregon would be asked to match it); and $1.75 million toward work on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad.

Democrats threaten right to vote with ‘civic duty’ proposal
The voter turnout for November’s general election was 63.42% in Clark County and 69.44% in Skamania. It was 63.82% statewide. That’s not enough for the Democrats behind Senate Bill 5209, which was passed by the Senate State Government and Elections Committee earlier this week. It would force you to turn in a ballot.

This measure would require every eligible voter to either register to vote or obtain a waiver from the obligation to register to vote. It also would require every registered voter to return a ballot for each primary and general election.

While I encourage those who are eligible to vote to get registered and take part in our elections, I would never force people to vote. Our state should not even consider turning a cherished right into a duty – a “universal civic duty,” as the title of the bill puts it.

The sponsors of this bill tend to be in the Senate’s ultra-liberal faction, with a notable example: the Senate majority leader. Two of the Democrats sponsoring the bill also are on the committee that has moved SB 5209 forward. The State Government committee chair spoke of how this would allow government to track down people who don’t turn in ballots, in the we-know-where-you-live sort of way. Another member of the committee suggested SB 5209 is about “behavior modification.”

Government exerts control over our lives enough already. More information is in this podcast and this video.

If you’re interested in receiving a text-message alert from Senate Republicans about things like this, you may share your mobile-phone number at this link.

Governor wants more money to clear encampments, but look at costs so far
Governor Inslee has been calling attention recently to the state’s work to clear homeless encampments from alongside our state highways.

His “Right of Way Safety Initiative” is backed by a $45 million appropriation added to the state operating budget during the 2022 legislative session. In December, he asked for another $68 million in the upcoming budget.

As WSDOT puts it, “These areas are not safe places for anyone to be living, and the encampments make these areas unsafe for crews working on these sites, for passing motorists who can be distracted and the neighbors of these areas.” I agree, but there’s more to the story.

There are over 2,000 such encampments along our state rights-of-way. I’m sure you have seen them. In six months, just 13 sites were cleared. That’s not even close to 1%, yet that work cost more than 8% of the money we appropriated. No wonder the governor is asking for more already.

Maybe the right-of-way cleanup is being bogged down by the lengthy process found in WSDOT’s description of the program:

Our efforts are very much a partnership between the state agencies as well as local partners and that is vital because there are several steps that need to happen to clear an encampment and help people find shelter or housing. Those steps and the agencies who work on them are:

  1. Identify and offer shelter and services to people living at a site (local jurisdiction & service/outreach providers; funding offered by Department of Commerce)
  2. Provide secure storage of their belongings (local jurisdiction & service/outreach providers)
  3. Ensure safety and security for people on site and work crews (local law enforcement & Washington State Patrol)
  4. Restore and clean up the property (WSDOT)

Assuming all things are equal, for the sake of doing the math: If it takes six months and $3.7 million to clear 13 sites, that’s a rate of approximately two sites per month, at a cost of $285,000 per site. Even if we cap the number of encampments at 2,000, that leaves 1,987 to go, and at two sites per month that means 993 months of work… or 82 years. And at $285,000 per site, another $566 million.

I realize things aren’t equal, and the clearing of different sites means different price tags. Still, there are serious questions to be asked. I plan on asking them next week when our Ways and Means committee gets a briefing.

Accountability: Let’s get the most from Medicaid dollars
One in four Washingtonians are on Medicaid. That’s around 2 million people. Half of all babies born in Washington are on Medicaid. Any program with that many clients deserves a closer look, to identify and eliminate waste and fraud.

A state performance audit made several recommendations to the state Health Care Authority for improving the integrity of its Medicaid program. That’s a gentle way of saying HCA is doing poorly at ensuring taxpayer dollars are only spent on allowable Medicaid claims and in the proper amount.

At a national level, improper payments are made in one out of every seven Medicaid claims. I’m concerned about that at the state level because the state HCA doesn’t track fraud – it leaves that to the managed care organizations (MCOs).

The trouble is, looking for fraud costs MCOs money, and it doesn’t change the lump sum they’re paid per each client covered. I don’t see that they would have incentive to hunt for fraud if it means a net loss of revenue.

We must do better, and hold this state agency accountable for the huge sums of money that pass through its hands. I introduced Senate Bill 5497 because if there are opportunities to stretch Medicaid dollars by eliminating waste and fraud, let’s find them.

Proposal to form ‘extremism’ commission sounds… a bit extreme
A House bill generated a ton of emails to my office this week. It’s HB 1333, which would establish a state agency with a mouthful of a name: the “domestic violent extremism commission.” It already cleared the House state-government committee, and because any state commission has a cost, is now going before the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

This commission would be an arm of the state attorney general’s office, and be required to meet at least four times – enough to generate recommendations that would be handed to the Legislature by August 2025. Just one of the reasons for creating this commission is to combat “misinformation and disinformation.” According to whom? 🤔 And what will be the repercussions when they discover this mis/disinformation?

The attorney general has pushed for other changes in law that would infringe on constitutional rights, and I would have similar concerns about this.

I would much rather have our AG put the power of his office behind policies that support domestic violence victims, like my SB 5076. This bill has to do with the setting of bail in DV cases, and is a product of my work on the Tiffany Hill Act. Unfortunately, it’s being ignored by the chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.


I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.

Yours in service,

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