Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

Kids’ policy progress report

Adam 03/17/17

It’s a little past the midpoint of the 2017 legislative session. Every legislative session contains numerous opportunities to advance good policies for kids. Here’s how Children’s Alliance’s legislative priorities and additional issues we are working on have fared.

The Dental Access bills (HB 1364/SB 5224) had excellent hearings in the House and Senate Health Care Committees. House Bill 1364 was passed out of the House Health Care Committee, but it did not receive a vote in the House Appropriations Committee before the deadline, so it is no longer moving forward. Yet, in another bill, legislators recognized tribal sovereignty and opened the doors for federal support for dental therapists practicing on tribal lands. That’s landmark progress.

The proposal for a unified Department of Children, Youth and Families (HB 1661) is also making progress, passing out of the House on March 15 with strong bipartisan support (77-19). It features several provisions addressing Children’s Alliance priorities, including unprecedented commitments to closing disparities in outcomes by income and race/ethnicity.

We continue to call on House and Senate budget writers for increased investment in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), our state’s proven preschool program. An additional 2,700 Washington three- and four-year-olds ought to get into a classroom next year—not onto a waitlist.

Finally, new revenue is needed to ensure we can meet the challenge of the McCleary ruling and sustain public investments our kids need to reach their vast potential. Children’s Alliance supports raising revenue by creating a state capital gains tax, taxing harmful carbon pollution and closing tax preferences that fail to serve kids, families and a healthy future.

Here’s a short description of the status of other bills we’ve supported this session that are moving forward:

Kids do better when the adults in their lives are able to look after their own health. Thousands of Washingtonians hail from three Pacific Island nations—the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau—that have Compacts of Free Association (COFA) granting the United States strategic military use of their territories. Citizens from these nations can live, work and pay taxes in the United States and serve in the U.S. military. But since 1996 they have been denied equal access to basic supports like Medicaid and food stamps. And they face life-threatening and chronic health problems: a legacy of 12 years of devastating nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands that contaminated their land, food and water. In response, House Bill 1291 provides a premium assistance program to help Washingtonians from COFA nations get more equitable access to health coverage. The bill passed the House and was passed with bipartisan support in the Senate Health Care Committee; you can help move the bill forward.

All parents ought to be there to care for a seriously ill child, or to welcome a new addition to the family. So we support House Bill 1116, for paid family and medical leave. The bill, awaiting a vote in both the House and Senate, is deemed necessary to implement the budget and therefore can still be passed before the end of the legislative session on April 23.

We support House Bill 1713, which is designed to boost mental health care for children—a resource all too often out of the reach of children of color. The bill requires better coordination within school districts and amplifies our ability to detect and treat depression among adolescents and new moms. House Bill 1713 passed the House and got a Senate committee hearing on March 14.

Without timely treatment, poor oral health can be passed along from mother to her newborn baby. That’s why we’re in favor of Senate Bill 5540, which extends a proven strategy for children’s dental health to expectant mothers. We want kids and families in communities of color, who suffer worse oral health as a result of poorer access to care, to get more care when this bill becomes law. The Senate passed SB 5540 on a vote of 49-0; members of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee will take positions on the bill on Wednesday, March 22.

Quality preschools need quality homes. Yet far too few ECEAP preschool providers have enough money to remodel old classrooms or build new ones. House Bill 1777 creates a loan fund to allow ECEAP providers to do just that—and, if administered effectively, with a priority for culturally and linguistically diverse providers, can increase the supply of high-quality preschool to kids and families in communities of color. The bill has been referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

To raise their voices for kids, Children’s Alliance members are heading out to town hall meetings with their legislators in the next few weeks. These are public meetings. Here’s how to find your town hall event.