Monthly Archives: April 2019

Legislature commits $35 million for new I-5 bridge

April 28th, 2019|

The two-year transportation budget passed today by the Legislature provides $35 million toward a new I-5 bridge.

“Today everyone who has been waiting and working for the replacement of our outdated bridge has 35 million reasons to celebrate,” Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver) said. “We have made steady progress, step by step, over the past months and years toward this important goal, but this is the big step all those little steps made possible. This is a $35 million step.”

Cleveland said the investments reaffirm Washington state’s ongoing commitment to its partners in Oregon and at the federal level, and would not have been possible without the continued efforts of a bipartisan coalition of Southwest Washington legislators. Besides Cleveland, the coalition includes Sens. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) and Lynda Wilson (R- Vancouver) and Reps. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver), Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), Paul Harris (R-Vancouver), Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) and Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver). 

“From the day I took office in 2013, the replacement of the I-5 Bridge has been my biggest single priority,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy and we’ve faced many obstacles, but I never let up because I know how important a new bridge is to our communities and to our region.”

The $35 million consists of $17.5 million to open and operate an I-5 bridge project office, plus a second $17.5 million to fund the pre-design and planning of a new bridge. Earlier in the legislative session, Cleveland and a coalition of SW Washington colleagues had secured $8.5 million for the bridge office. In the final days of session, that amount increased to $17.5 million through continued negotiations.

On top of that, Cleveland was able to secure an additional $17.5 million to ensure that public outreach and bridge planning and pre-design work can begin concurrent with the efforts of the I-5 Bridge Replacement Legislative Action Committee in the months ahead.

“We are at a crucial point in our work to replace the I-5 bridge where concrete steps toward funding were necessary to continue forward in the most expeditious manner possible,” Cleveland said. “It’s time to put our money where our mouth is and demonstrate how this process differs from past practices as we proceed with an approach that makes the best use of this financial commitment.

“We all spend far too many hours waiting in bridge traffic that worsens every year. While the old bridge first built in 1917 has well served several generations, it’s time for a replacement bridge that meets our needs in this century.”

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    Cleveland: Nursing rest break bill should be corrected in public

Cleveland: Nursing rest break bill should be corrected in public

April 23rd, 2019|

Nurses and the public at large deserve to be able to observe the Legislature’s deliberations in correcting problems with legislation to ensure adequate, consistent work breaks for nurses, Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver) said today.

Having passed out of the House on March 6, House Bill 1155 was amended on the Senate floor on April 16 and then passed by the Senate — even though one amendment was opposed by many senators and subsequently triggered public backlash.

The House refused to accede to the Senate amendments and called for both chambers to enter into a conference process in which six lawmakers — three from each chamber — meet in private to negotiate a final version of the bill. When a motion was made on the Senate floor to agree to the conference process, however, Cleveland motioned to reject the conference format and to correct the bill on the Senate floor.

“As I said when we voted on the floor last week, it’s extremely important that we address the issue of rest breaks for the good of the nursing profession, and for that reason I supported the bill even despite the floor amendment I opposed,” Cleveland said. “Since that time, I have received countless calls and emails from nurses in and outside my district, opposing this bill in its current form.

“I understand their alarm and I agree that the legislation should be fixed. But I felt the proper place to do that is on the Senate floor, in full view of the public — not behind closed doors. Nurses, and the larger public as well, have been tracking this bill closely and they have participated in the public process every step of the way. This is no time to shut them out.

“Given the public outcry over what has happened with this bill, it’s more important than ever that our constituents continue to be able to help guide us to a final policy. And they can’t do that if they can’t see what we’re doing.”

On the floor, however, the Senate’s motion to conference with the House carried, and Sens. Manka Dhingra, Kevin Van De Wege and Curtis King were appointed to represent the Senate in conference negotiations. Reps. Eileen Cody, Gina Mosbrucker and Mike Sells will represent the House.

Cleveland acknowledged that the conference process is an efficient, common means of negotiating final details of bills. But she said the rest break bill was no ordinary bill and had drawn far more interest than the vast majority of legislation.

“I felt this policy was too important, and getting it right was too important, to do it out of sight of the public,” she said. “I felt we should make whatever changes need to made on the floor, so everyone could see exactly what we’re doing, and why.”

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    Cleveland law will improve investigations of child sex abuse cases

Cleveland law will improve investigations of child sex abuse cases

April 22nd, 2019|

Investigations of sexual abuse of children will soon be conducted more quickly, accurately and thoroughly, thanks to legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The genesis of Senate Bill 5461, sponsored by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), originated in Clark County with the goal of better protecting children and holding their abusers accountable.

“The sexual abuse of any child is horrific and unacceptable. We must do everything we can as a society to protect children by making sure any allegations are investigated promptly and to the best of our combined resources,” said Cleveland, who chairs the Senate Health Committee. “This legislation will make sure a report of sexual abuse of a child is investigated swiftly and as effectively as possible.”

Until now, investigations have been burdened by a lack of clarity on protocols for communications between various individuals and agencies with pertinent information. SB 5461 establishes formal guidelines for coordination between local law enforcement, the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, state agencies and advocacy groups, and licensed physical and mental health practitioners who work with child victims of sex abuse.

Together, these parties constitute a multidisciplinary child protection team, with the confidentiality of information shared among the team protected under law. Existing civil and criminal penalties apply to any inappropriate disclosure of the information.

Cleveland said the idea for the legislation came from the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center in Clark County.

“We are fortunate in my district to have a long-time Children’s Justice Center that has been providing a safe, child-focused place for alleged child victims of abuse to seek support for over 20 years,” Cleveland said. “They identified a barrier to their work that required legislative action.

 “Their suggestions for coordinating county resources should make a dramatic difference, not just in Clark County but other counties as well. This is going to improve investigations and help reduce trauma for children in communities across our state.”

The law applies to investigations of online sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of minors, child fatalities, child physical abuse, and criminal child neglect, with each county required to develop written protocols.

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    Senate passes bill to better protect public from outbreaks of measles

Senate passes bill to better protect public from outbreaks of measles

April 18th, 2019|

Taking action to safeguard the public against health threats like the ongoing measles outbreak in Clark County, the Senate passed House Bill 1638 on a 25-22 vote late Wednesday.

“We talk a lot about ‘protecting the most vulnerable among us.’ Well, protecting the most vulnerable among us is precisely what this legislation is all about,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee. “The threat of contagion from measles is real and it is growing, especially for infants too young to be vaccinated and for children and adults with depressed immune systems due to disease or cancer treatment.”

State law requires vaccinations for a number of diseases but allows exemptions on the basis of medical necessity, religion, and personal belief. HB 1638 removes the personal belief exemption from vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) while retaining medical and religious exemptions, and leaves intact personal belief exemptions for all other required immunizations. In recent years, the use of exemptions has risen as parents have been swayed by online campaigns to sow doubt as to the safety of vaccinations.

“It’s an unfortunate reality today that many people will sooner embrace conspiracy theories and alternative facts than proven science — a process that made passing this legislation harder than it should have been,” said Cleveland, who sponsored similar legislation in the Senate. “Vaccine deniers are no less a threat to public health than climate deniers are to our environmental health.”

Cleveland said the near party-line vote — no Senate Republicans voted for the bill and only one member of the Senate Democratic Caucus voted against it — demonstrated a commitment to act on the public’s behalf despite extremely vocal, organized efforts of vaccine deniers to intimidate lawmakers and confuse the facts about vaccinations.

“It’s our job to do difficult things, to ignore the noise and to execute our responsibilities as lawmakers to govern in the people’s best interest,” she said. “Putting people first means protecting the health and safety of all Washingtonians even when it’s the most difficult, not just when it’s convenient.”

Cleveland noted that the rate of measles cases in Washington plummeted from nearly 20,000 cases the year before the current measles vaccine was introduced, to fewer than 2,500 cases the following year, and to zero cases in 2000, when the Centers for Disease Control declared measles eradicated across the nation.

“The simple truth is that diseases like measles can be easily and safely avoided through widespread immunization — which is exactly how our country tamed what was once a raging threat to national health,” she said. “You cannot have an outbreak unless you have enough unimmunized people for the disease to flourish.”

Cleveland said she respects parents’ concerns of exposure to potentially harmful substances and agrees on the need to reduce or eliminate such exposures, but said it is important to pursue those efforts responsibly.

“Our world is rife with harmful chemicals, there’s no question of that, but not everything rumored to be harmful is in reality harmful,” Cleveland said. “Let’s work together, using science to focus on the true threats, and help dispel fears of threats that are unfounded.”

Washington state Senate passes vaccine bill

April 18th, 2019|

Washington is the first state in the nation in four years to remove the personal exemption for vaccinations immunizing the public from measles, mumps and rubella, as reported today in The Washington Post.

You can read the story here.

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    Governor signs legislation into law to protect health care benefits

Governor signs legislation into law to protect health care benefits

April 17th, 2019|

Health care policies sold in Washington must honor existing patient protections even if those standards are eliminated by action taken at the federal level, under legislation signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

House Bill 1870 takes effect immediately, as a result of an emergency clause added by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver). Cleveland added the clause in March, after the U.S. Justice Department asked 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold an earlier Texas court ruling that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. That ruling, which is under appeal, would rescind the ACA and a wide range of important consumer protections.

“We wanted to get these protections into law as quickly as possible to guard against any potential actions by the Trump administration or the courts,” said Cleveland, who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee. “Given the president’s repeated efforts to roll back health care standards, we made it a priority this session to protect Washingtonians from any reductions in coverage.”

HB 1870 ensures that individuals and families in Washington state no longer face the threat of losing coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or because they reach a lifetime spending cap, along with other limits prohibited by the ACA. After the ACA was passed, the state’s uninsured rate dropped 61%, and the number of adults gaining coverage grew by 800,000.

Cleveland sponsored identical companion legislation in the Senate, ensuring that Washingtonians’ health care coverage would be protected regardless of which chamber passed its legislation.

House Bill 1870 requires that any health care plan sold in Washington state provide numerous consumer protections, including:

  • Strict annual limits on out-of-pocket costs to consumers, such as copays and deductibles;
  • Coverage cannot be denied based on a consumer’s existing medical condition;
  • Guarantees that patients can’t be dropped from coverage, except in cases of fraud;
  • Prevents patients from being charged more based on their health status;
  • Providers cannot cap the maximum cost of coverage or benefits in a patient’s lifetime; and
  • Provides patients with a standardized summary of benefits so they can more clearly understand what is covered.

The bill also codifies requirements for: outpatient care; emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative services and equipment; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; reproductive care; breastfeeding; and pediatric services.

“This critical legislation means no one in the other Washington can eliminate our right to get the health care we need and deserve, for ourselves and for our families,” Cleveland said. “This will prevent anyone at the federal level from playing politics with our health care.”

House passes Senate’s comprehensive opioid legislation

April 16th, 2019|

Legislation passed today by the House would take multiple steps to address society’s growing opioid crisis.

“The opioid epidemic is taking a toll on communities around our state, at tremendous financial cost,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), the sponsor of Senate Bill 5380. “The even greater toll, however, is to people and families. The opioid crisis claimed more than 700 lives in Washington last year and is now the leading cause of accidental deaths in almost every part of our state.”

Cleveland, who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee, noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States at $78.5 billion a year, including the cost of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. 

“Our communities are reeling from opioid misuse and abuse in too many ways to address with a single solution,” Cleveland said. “This legislation takes action on everything from length of prescriptions and prescription monitoring, to collaboration by multiple state agencies to develop a comprehensive, statewide approach to treating and preventing opioid use disorder.  The bill addresses prevention, education, treatment and swift responses to overdoes.”

Passed unanimously, SB 5380 would modify numerous protocols for using medications to treat opioid use disorder. It would:

  • Permit pharmacists to partially fill certain prescriptions upon patient request.
    • Require prescribers to discuss the risks of opioids with certain patients and provide the patient with the option to refuse an opioid prescription.
    • Establish new requirements for how electronic health records integrate with the state’s prescription monitoring program and how the data can be used.
    • Require the Health Care Authority and the Department of Health to partner and work with other state agencies on initiatives that promote a statewide approach in addressing opioid use disorder.
    • Permit the Secretary of Health to issue a standing order for opioid reversal medication and require pharmacists to provide written instructions for dispensing reversal medication for opioid overdoses.
    • Allow hospital emergency departments to dispense opioid overdose reversal medication when a patient is at risk of opioid overdose.

“The opioid crisis demands action, and it demands comprehensive action,” Cleveland said. “This legislation takes a broad approach, providing and directing our key health agencies to make opioid concerns a statewide priority. I know of no other crisis negatively impacting the health of so many in our state that is as dire, or as devastating as the opioid epidemic.  We must swiftly pass this bill to provide help, support and hope to all of those currently suffering. ”

Having been amended in the House, the bill now must go back to the Senate for reconsideration.

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    Legislature OKs bill expanding options for veterinary care for pets in low-income households

Legislature OKs bill expanding options for veterinary care for pets in low-income households

April 12th, 2019|

Humane societies will be able to offer a wide range of veterinary care for pets in low-income households at reduced fees, as a result of legislation passed today by the House on a 77-18 vote.

Senate Bill 5004, sponsored by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), would remove severe state restrictions on the types of care that can be offered for reduced fees by animal care-and-control agencies and non-profit humane societies.

“At a time when more households are struggling to make ends meet, this will help people better care for their pets, relieve pain and suffering, and even avoid economic euthanasia,” Cleveland said. “For many people, including and especially our senior citizens, the cost of veterinary care is simply out of the question.”

When pets need care, people often turn to their local Humane Society for help, and yet, under current law, the help they can provide is severely limited.  Washington is one of fewer than 10 states that limit the range of services that humane societies can offer for reduced fees to include only vaccines, spaying or neutering, and microchipping. As a result, according to a recent Humane Society survey:

  • 60% of those seeking care for a pet do not regularly see a veterinarian;
  • 46% would need to borrow money to pay for treatment;
  • 65% would have their pets go untreated because they cannot afford treatment; and
  • 70% had to surrender aging or sick pets to be euthanized because they could not afford care.

“In households throughout our community, the mutual affection we share with our pets provides precious companionship, sometimes even someone’s primary companionship,” Cleveland said. “No one should have to watch a beloved companion suffer or die because of economic hardship.”

Cleveland’s bill would allow Humane societies to provide low-cost or no-cost veterinary services to low-income pet owners. Allowing emergency care and other services to those who meet specific income criteria would enable them to better care for their pets and avoid the stress, fear and delays in care that occur today. Households eligible for care must have an adjusted income less than 80 percent of the median family income, adjusted for household size, for the county where the household is located.

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

Senate passes bill barring use of prior-wage information

April 12th, 2019|

Potential employers would be prohibited from requesting a job applicant’s wage or salary history, or require that their salary history meet certain criteria, under legislation passed today by the Senate.

“This landmark legislation will help eliminate the perpetuation of inequities suffered by women who have been paid significantly less on average than men with comparable experience doing comparable work,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), a longtime champion for equal pay laws. “When someone has been underpaid for years, that inequity continues so long as future pay raises are calculated based on their past rate of pay. They never catch up, and they continue to lose money year after year compared to their male counterparts, on average.”

House Bill 1696 addresses this perpetual inequity three ways:

  • It prohibits an employer from seeking an applicant’s wage or salary history, or requiring that the wage or salary history meet certain criteria, with limited exceptions;
  • It requires employers to provide certain wage scales and salary ranges to employees and applicants, so everyone can know the expected pay range; and
  • It allows an employee to bring a civil action for actual damages; statutory damages equal to the actual damages or $5,000, whichever is greater; and interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The legislation builds on actions by Cleveland in each on the past two legislative sessions to address inequities in pay based on gender.

In 2017, Cleveland inserted a proviso into the state’s operating budget to extend protections to employees who work for vendors that contract with six Washington state agencies. Those protections prohibit discrimination in compensation and provide remedies, including damages and civil penalties assessed by the state Department of Labor & Industries, and civil action brought by an employee.

In 2018, legislation sponsored by Cleveland extended those protections to employees of all businesses that operate in Washington state. The law also established protections for employees who are offered unequal workplace opportunities based on gender, and prohibited employers from requiring employees not to discuss their wages with each other.

Having been amended by the Senate, HB 1696 now goes back to the House for further consideration.

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    Senate passes legislation to protect patients from ‘surprise billing’

Senate passes legislation to protect patients from ‘surprise billing’

April 11th, 2019|

Legislation passed unanimously late Wednesday by the Senate will protect patients from being billed extra when they receive medical care involving an out-of-network provider.

“Patients should not be surprised by an unexpected medical bill when they receive health care,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), who sponsored Senate legislation similar to House Bill 1065, the version that wound up as the vehicle for passage. “This bill to eliminate ‘surprise billing’ is one more way of ensuring patients are not caught in the middle when an insurer does not contract with a provider a patient receives their treatment from.” 

Surprise billing occurs when someone receives health care services performed by a provider who is outside their carrier’s network, and the provider bills the patient for the difference between what the provider has billed and the insurance plan chooses to pay. This typically occurs when someone needs to seek emergency care at an out-of-network hospital that is bound by federal law to treat the patient, or when someone receives care at an in-network hospital but receives care from an out-of-network provider who works there. Recent studies suggest that roughly 1-in-5 emergency room visits and 1-in-10 elective inpatient procedures result in the potential for a surprise bill.

“The financial consequences of these surprise fees can be devastating to a patient or their household,” Cleveland said. “If it’s more than the patient can afford and the bill is sent to collections, no one wins — the provider has to spend enormous effort to get the money and often never gets it, and the consumer’s credit history can be ruined.”

To protect patients in such cases, HB 1065 establishes an arbitration process in which the hospital and the out-of-network provider must negotiate their differences in fees, instead of passing additional costs on to patients, and ensures an evenhanded process for settling billing disputes between out-of-network providers and facilities and health carriers.