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    Governor signs comprehensive sexual health education bill into law

Governor signs comprehensive sexual health education bill into law

March 27th, 2020|

The expansion of science-based, age-appropriate sexual health education to all public school districts and grade levels was signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“This curriculum has been taught in many of our school districts for years, but kids in other districts haven’t had access to the same information and protections,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others.”

Among other things, Wilson’s Senate Bill 5395:

  • Expands comprehensive sexual health education curriculum to all grade 6-12 schools across the state, phased in over several years;
  • Phases in age-appropriate curriculum for K-5 grades; and
  • Simplifies the process by which parents may exempt children from sexual health education classes on request.

“We all want to keep our children safe. As an educator and parent of teenagers, I have seen the consequences of not providing young people with information they need,” said Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), who sponsored companion legislation in the House and shepherded Wilson’s bill to passage in that chamber. “This bill will help schools provide students with the age-appropriate tools they need to keep themselves safe and healthy, while maintaining local control in districts.”

“Students need a safe place to ask questions and get the information they need to make safe decisions,” Wilson said. “Every year, there are children who are targeted for molestation, there are young women who are coerced or assaulted. The information and lessons in this curriculum will help our children live healthier, safer lives.”

The bill has been a target of disinformation campaigns that have sought to stir opposition by circulating misleading and false depictions of the sexual health curriculum.

Wilson noted that the curriculum does not promote sex or direct teachers to instruct students on how to have sex, one of numerous nonfactual claims that has been alleged. To the contrary, the curriculum focuses on health and safety, emphasizes the importance of consent, and is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STIs.

The bill earned the support of King County prosecutors who wrote in a recent op-ed in the Seattle Times that the curriculum would help prevent sexual abuse and violence by teaching healthier behaviors.

“In committee hearings, we heard testimony from a wide range of students, young people and educators, and even older people who said they wished they’d had access to this curriculum when they were younger,” Wilson said. “They spoke of confusion, torment and hardship that could have been avoided if they had better understood their rights and options and the ramifications of sexual activity. They said they wanted the kids going through our schools today to be able to avoid the pitfalls they endured.”

Q&A – Is childcare available during the pandemic?

March 25th, 2020|

Under Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to limit the spread of coronavirus, childcare is deemed an essential service. Exactly what that means has raised questions for parents and childcare providers, so I am offering the following answers to common questions that have been asked of legislators in recent days.

Please know also that the state Department of Health (DOH), state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) are collaborating to develop a provision of essential services that will not jeopardize the health of children, staff or parents. DCYF has created a page where parents and providers can ask questions here.

What has been the impact on the childcare system as a whole?

The demand for available childcare is very high and access is limited. The day following the closure of K-12 institutions, Child Care Aware Washington saw a 200 percent increase in families seeking care at its referral center. Since this time, it has broadened outreach to providers to assess who is staying open and who is closed. As of March 20, 439 programs had closed, which represents about 21,000 childcare slots. As this is still being updated, that number may have already risen and is likely to remain fluid.

Not surprisingly, local childcare providers are facing significant challenges. Like many in the healthcare industry, childcare providers are having difficulty locating sanitation and cleaning supplies. Child Care Aware has been communicating directly with suppliers and distributors and is contacting providers to better define what is needed and where.

Are childcare providers required to stay open?

While the governor’s order designates childcare facilities as necessary services, they are under no mandate to remain open. Childcare providers are independent business owners and make their own decisions about whether they should or can stay open during the pandemic. DCYF is reaching out to help them as they make these difficult decisions.

DOH has offered guidance to providers that covers health screening at entry, social distancing, outside play, meals and snack time, drop-off and pick-up, hygiene practices, transportation, and other concerns.

When should a childcare entity close?

At this time, DOH supports a closure if someone confirmed with coronavirus spent time there and had contacts with other individuals in the setting. In this situation, DOH and the local public health department will work with the childcare facility to consider the duration of the closure and to determine steps to limit the spread.

I have heard school districts will provide childcare for first responders. How is this going to work?

On March 23, OSPI issued new guidance on childcare by schools.

The implementation of childcare services for children of first responders and health care workers is ultimately a local decision to be determined by each district. Implementation will depend on local collective bargaining, with districts and unions making the health and safety of both children and school staff the top priority. Parents can expect that childcare opportunities provided by districts will be extremely limited.

In addition, OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal has directed school districts to prioritize care for the children of healthcare workers, first responders, pharmacy workers, and grocery store workers. Districts have been directed to use the following definitions in determining whether a household falls under one of these categories:

  • Members of the healthcare workforce, as defined by the Washington State Medical Association, include people who work in any setting where healthcare services, long-term care, long-term services and supports, or personal care are delivered. This includes, but is not limited to: hospitals, clinics, behavioral health centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family homes, and personal homes.
  • First responders include firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel as licensed or certificated by the state.

Beyond serving these groups, districts have the discretion to serve other students and families provided they have capacity and observe social distancing guidelines to the best of their ability. A few districts have taken it upon themselves to assist these kinds of facilities, often in partnership with other local nonprofits like Boys and Girls Clubs and local YMCA and YWCA entities.

Has licensing has been a barrier to school districts’ ability to provide childcare?

Schools are not required to be licensed in order to offer K–5 childcare during the COVID-19 crisis unless they serve infants and toddlers. If a school partners with a community-based program that is licensed, that program can continue to operate under its existing license. Licensed programs may need to adjust their existing licenses in order to increase capacity and accommodate more children, change the location of a program site, or make other changes to better serve prioritized families. DCYF has an emergency licensing waiver process in place to assist with changes.

In addition, community-based organizations not currently licensed by DCYF may be eligible to operate as educational/recreational camps during the COVID-19 emergency. For more information about this option, potential providers should email DCYF at emergencychildcare@dcyf.wa.gov or call DCYF’s licensing office at 509-544-5712.

Coronavirus: What to Know, What to Do

March 23rd, 2020|

The safety of you and your loved ones is of the utmost importance as we weather this unprecedented crisis. I hope you are well and doing what we all need to do to stay healthy.

The smartest thing we can do now is limit contact with others.

We are in a stage of peak contagion, when exposure to the virus is projected to double every five days, at least for the next few weeks. That makes it critical that all of us alter our normal behaviors and avoid contact with others unless absolutely necessary. This is the most effective way to break the chain of transmission; it will vastly reduce the number of people who are exposed, who test positive, or who develop life-threatening illnesses.

This is why Gov. Inslee has ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and other public places where groups of people congregate, and tonight issued a “stay home” order that bans social gatherings. Except to buy food and medical prescriptions, or other essential tasks, staying home is the best policy. The order also bans non-essential business activity, based on federal guidelines, and is effective for a minimum of two weeks.

Please listen to the experts.

  • Maintain a distance of six feet or more from others.
  • Anyone 60 years old or older, or who has an underlying medical condition, should self-isolate.
  • We all must re-think our daily routines, from socializing with family and friends to attending customary group activities. It won’t be fun, but it won’t be forever and it will make a critical difference. The inconvenience we endure today may truly save a life several weeks from now.
  • It’s times like this that we need more than ever to be there for each other. Community is our lifeline. We can call or text or email family, friends, neighbors and anyone else we know who might need help or reassurance. Even as we keep our distance physically, we can be closer than ever to each other emotionally.

We are doing everything we can to help at the state level.

As the challenges of the coronavirus became known, my colleagues and I in the Legislature appropriated funding to make sure our state and local health departments have the full resources they need to respond to the pandemic, and stand ready to take further action as necessary. So far, we have added $200 million to the state operating budget to:

  • support monitoring, testing and local public health response;
  • expand unemployment insurance for people who are quarantined;
  • increase access to health care coverage by opening enrollment for anyone who does not currently have health insurance; and
  • mitigate catastrophic losses at local businesses, for employees as well as employers.

In addition, we took measures to:

  • ensure that people receiving unemployment insurance can continue to do so even if they cannot meet the work search requirements due to quarantine;
  • support businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency;
  • reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response;
  • allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours due to this emergency;
  • adopt a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions;
  • encourage utilities to suspend shut-offs and waive late fees for out-of-work customers;
  • authorize flexibility on state tax collections and waive late fees on licensing renewals; and
  • provide flexibility to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track for graduation before the emergency declaration.

Beyond that, legislators and legislative employees are teleworking to reduce and contain the spread of this virus. This will continue until it is safe for people to congregate again.

State agencies, meanwhile, are taking action to help the people and businesses who are the most direly impacted. The governor’s office has assembled a central list of resources here.

The state Department of Health, in particular, is responding to increased demands for health care workers by registering licensed volunteer health practitioners as allowed by the Volunteer Emergency Health Practitioner Act. We passed this act in 2018 to be prepared for exactly the sort of challenges we face now.

If you suspect you may have coronavirus:

  • Call your doctor – do not go to the hospital. Your doctor will make an assessment about next steps, and many are using telehealth options. If you require a COVID-19 test, your doctor will contact public health officials to arrange a test.
  • If you have symptoms and do not have a doctor to call, you can call the state Department of Health call center at 800-525-0127.
  • If you live in King County and believe you were exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if you are a healthcare or homeless center provider with questions, you can call the King County Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 206-477-3977. Interpreters are available.
  • If you have general questions about COVID-19 or Washington State’s response, please call the Washington State Department of Health call center: 1-800-525-0127. Phone lines are currently staffed from 6 am to 10 pm, seven days a week, interpreters are available.

Other help is available to address different needs.

  • If an employer has had to temporarily shut down operations, workers may be eligible for unemployment benefits and the employer may receive relief of benefit costs.
  • If workers are asked to isolate or quarantine by a doctor or health official, they may receive unemployment benefits while they are temporarily away from work. And the Legislature has waived the requirement that people in this situation must be actively searching for work.
  • Recognizing the serious threat of coronavirus, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange has opened a special enrollment period for health insurance through April 8. Call 1-855-923-4633 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • The state Insurance Commissioner has required all insurance plans to cover coronavirus tests with no cost-sharing and no prior authorization requirement for people who meet the CDC criteria for testing. The commissioner has also required insurance plans to allow enrollees to refill their prescriptions early one time in order to maintain an adequate supply. You can find more insurance updates at this link.
  • With public schools closed for the response, you can find details and updates from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction here.

Other useful resources:

These are challenging times, and we are being tested — as individuals, as households, as a community. And I know we will take care of one another and see this through.

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    House passes Wilson bill to improve timetable for childcare subsidies

House passes Wilson bill to improve timetable for childcare subsidies

March 6th, 2020|

Legislation passed unanimously late Thursday by the House will ensure that a child who qualifies for 12 months of Working Connections childcare receives the full 12-month benefit.

“If a household qualifies for 12 months of childcare, that’s what they should receive,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the sponsor of Senate Bill 6540. “The current system starts the clock as soon as an application is processed, which is often before a parent can find childcare. It starts too soon and ends too soon.”

Delaying the start of the clock until the child is in care will ensure that the parent and child receive the full 12-month benefit to which they are entitled.

“Childcare is in great demand and short supply,” said Wilson, vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “Parents deserve to be given the time it takes to find childcare.”

Having already passed the Senate, SB 6540 now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

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    Senate passes bill to prohibit solitary confinement of youths

Senate passes bill to prohibit solitary confinement of youths

March 5th, 2020|

Legislation passed today by the Senate will bar juvenile holding facilities from subjecting teens to solitary confinement. Having already passed the House, the bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

“Solitary confinement is damaging to youth. It traumatizes them and hinders their ability to learn, grow and reintegrate into society,” said Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), the sponsor of House Bill 2277. “Subjecting kids to solitary confinement is nothing short of torture. Its end is way past due.”

Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), who sponsored companion legislation in the Senate, said a study of suicides in juvenile facilities revealed half of all suicides occurred while in isolation and 62 percent of the youth had experienced solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement is especially damaging to young people, who are less developed and more vulnerable,” Wilson said. “It is an outdated practice that inflicts serious, lasting harm.”

HB 2277 passed the Senate on a 36-13 vote and will:

  • Limit the use of isolation to only emergency conditions, with strict guidelines for time and placement;
  • Require institutions to document any use of isolation or room confinement; and
  • Establish a process for the creation of model policies to follow when the use of isolation, room confinement, or less restrictive alternatives is deemed appropriate.

The legislation will align Washington with 10 states — including the nation’s two largest, California and Texas — that have passed laws to ban or limit solitary confinement for juveniles. When the state of Ohio reduced the use of solitary confinement by more than 88 percent in 2015, institutional violence decreased by more than 20 percent.

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    Senate passes bill to expand childcare subsidies for teen parents

Senate passes bill to expand childcare subsidies for teen parents

March 5th, 2020|

Legislation passed today by the Senate would improve teen parents’ chances of attaining the education and graduation credentials to position them and their children for more successful lives.

“Helping a young parent complete high school results in a more successful parent and a healthier household,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “This modest assistance can profoundly change someone’s trajectory. It could mean the difference between success and struggle, now and throughout life.”

Wilson sponsored Senate legislation similar to House Bill 2455, which the Senate passed on a 34-15 vote. The measure extends, within existing resources, full-time subsidized Working Connections Childcare during the school year to parents attending high school or working toward a high school equivalency certificate. The bill also allows school districts to provide transportation to students who request to bring their infant with them on a school bus or other student transportation vehicle. If the request is denied, the district must authorize other arrangements for the child’s transportation.

To be eligible, a parent must participate in 110 hours of approved activities per month and have a household income not in excess of 85 percent of the state median income at the time of application.

Having already passed the House, the bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

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    House approves mandate for comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

House approves mandate for comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

March 5th, 2020|

Legislation passed late Wednesday by the Washington State House of Representatives would require comprehensive sexual health education (CSHE) in all public schools by the 2022-23 school year.

Senate Bill 5395, Sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), would:

  • Require age-appropriate, medically accurate CSHE to be taught once from kindergarten to 3rd grade, once from 4th to 5th, twice in 6th to 8th, and twice in 9th to 12th.
  • Teach the concept of affirmative consent to older students so they can better recognize inappropriate behavior and their right to reject it.
  • Define CSHE and specify that curricula for kindergarten to 3rd grade must meet social and emotional learning standards.
  • Uphold the right of parents to review the curriculum and opt their children out of any portion of the instruction.
  • Require schools to notify parents when CSHE will be taught.
  • Establish new requirements for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide technical assistance so that districts can effectively implement the new standards.
  • Require CSHE curriculum to include information about affirmative consent.

“First and foremost, this bill is about safety. It’s about giving students the knowledge they need to recognize and resist inappropriate behaviors — from small children targeted by pedophiles, to older students pressured to have sex by their peers,” Wilson said. “Second, this bill is about health. Young people ages 15–24 represent one-fourth of the sexually active population but acquire half of all new STIs. Studies consistently show that the most effective programs include comprehensive sexual health or HIV education — or both — and the comprehensive approach is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STIs.”

SB 5395 does not mandate any statewide curriculum. Instead, the bill gives local school districts the flexibility to determine what will best meet the needs of their students and families. All information must be appropriate and must meet existing state K-12 Health and Physical Education Learning Standards.

“Parents and communities are critical partners in ensuring that our students are healthy and successful, which is why it is so important that this bill strengthens parental rights,” said Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), who sponsored companion legislation in the House. “Teaching students how to be good friends, how to say no to unwanted touches, and how to develop healthy, respectful relationships are all building blocks of public education.”

The goal of this legislation, Democrats argued during debate, is to give Washington students the tools they need to engage in safe, consensual relationships as adults, in addition to teaching them skills to identify and prevent sexual abuse.

The bill passed 28-21 in the Senate and 56-40 in the House. Having been amended in the House, it must now be sent back to the Senate to reconcile the differences in the versions that passed each chamber.

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    Senate makes rights for people with developmental disabilities more accessible

Senate makes rights for people with developmental disabilities more accessible

March 4th, 2020|

A House bill passed unanimously today by the Senate would make a wide range of rights — including privacy, personal power and choice, healthcare information, the ability to file complaints, and access to advocates — more accessible to people with developmental disabilities.

“These are important rights and they have been in place for some time, but not everyone knows them,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the sponsor of identical legislation in the Senate. “This bill will help people to know their rights and have access to the appropriate advocates when they need extra support.”

House Bill 1651 covers a broad range of services and programs for people with developmental disabilities administered by the state Developmental Disabilities Administration within the Department of Social and Health Services.

Having already passed the House, the bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

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    House passes Wilson bill to make childcare facilities gun-free zones

House passes Wilson bill to make childcare facilities gun-free zones

March 3rd, 2020|

Childcare facilities would carry the same prohibitions on deadly weapons as K-12 schools under legislation passed today by the House.

“This will give our younger children similar protections to school-age youths,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s sponsor. “No parent wants to be notified that guns have been fired on grounds where their child is being cared for.”

Wilson, the vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, said Senate Bill 5434 would help keep younger children safe from the deadly shootings that are spilling into public venues with increasing frequency.

Wilson’s bill prohibits the possession of firearms on the premises of any licensed childcare center, childcare center provided-transportation, or other childcare center facility. The bill was amended by the House to exempt law enforcement officers and holders of concealed pistol licenses.

Having been amended by the House, the bill must now come back to the Senate to reconcile differences between the two versions before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Luis Carrera-Lara serves as page in Washington State Senate

February 25th, 2020|

Luis Carrera-Lara, 16, served as a page in the Washington State Senate during the week of Feb. 17.

Pages are typically sponsored by the senator from their legislative district. Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn) sponsored Carrera-Lara’s week in the Legislature.

“Seeing my senator, getting to meet her and seeing her values made me feel like she values me and all my fellow constituents,” Carrera-Lara said. “What really surprised me was seeing how much time senators take out of their day to meet with the people of their districts and actually listen to them — and make sure the bills that they are passing not only benefit their community but benefit as many as they can.”

For her part, Wilson said Carrera-Lara impressed everyone in her office and appeared to make the absolute most of his various opportunities as a page, including participating in the lieutenant governor’s World Fellows Program.

“When you page in the Senate, you really get an eyeful, and Luis soaked it all in like a sponge,” Wilson said. “By taking part in World Fellows, he saw a lot more than most pages get to see.”

The page program offers a hands-on opportunity for students to find out how state government works. The interactive learning experience includes classes focused on topics like budget writing and how a bill becomes a law, which culminates in pages creating their own bills in a mock committee setting. Carrera-Lara wrote and passed a bill providing overtime compensation for agricultural workers and is looking forward to advancing this legislation in Washington State.

“Seeing that most of these bills come from the people, it’s nice to see that we’re getting heard,” he said. “Now I really want to be an intern here, and hopefully pursue a political career at some point.”

Pages also have the opportunity to work on the Senate floor. Their maroon coats and credentials allow them access to all parts of the Capitol Campus. The educational experience is furthered by guest speakers.

Carrera-Lara is in 11th grade at Todd Beamer High School, where he is vice president of DECA, plays varsity track and cross country, and is active in MESA@HighlineCollege.

For more information about the Senate Page Program, contact SenatePageProgram@leg.wa.gov.