Dear friends and neighbors,

We just wrapped up the third week of this year’s 60-day legislative session and the pace has been brisk. I want to share a brief update on a few of the key bills the Legislature is already acting on this year.

Update on WA Cares Act

In 2019, the Legislature passed the Washington Cares Act, which made our state the first in the nation to start a program that would support a long-term health care benefit for state residents, funded through a 0.58% employee payroll deduction. This program was designed to help us stay in our homes longer as we age, receiving care from family members or home care workers. If we end up needing skilled care in a nursing home, this program could provide bridge funding until our savings or the federal Medicaid program kicked in. It’s not the only solution to our nation’s long-term care challenges, but it’s an important step to meet an important need.

As we’ve moved to set this insurance program up, we’ve hit a few stumbling blocks along the way. This week the Legislature called a time-out on the program so we can address the concerns we have heard from many people across the state. House Bill 1732 delays collection of the payroll tax to fund the program until July 1, 2023, and House Bill 1733 ensures that when and if the program moves forward we address things like exemptions from those who receive similar benefits or do not qualify for the program, including veterans, military spouses, temporary workers and non-state residents. Gov. Inslee signed both bills into law this week, giving us some breathing room. We have plenty of more work to do and I appreciate both the strong support for the concept that I’ve heard from people and the concerns about its implementation and roll out. Read more about the issue in the Seattle Times.

The Importance of Arts Education

The most uplifting hearing I’ve been in all session was in the Senate education committee this week, on Senate Bill 5878. This bill was brought to me by Kingston High School’s very own art teacher extraordinaire, James Andrews. Access to art instruction is critical to the academic success and well-being of our students here in Washington, and while we’ve made strides with greater inclusion of the arts in schools, we have more work to do to ensure every student can access this important curriculum. That’s why I am working hard to pass this bill so we make sure visual and performing arts are part of the core content our students learn – on a level playing field with reading and math. Watch the committee hearing on the bill here.

Student Loan Repayments

In case you missed it last week, there was news from our state Attorney General’s Office regarding justice for Washington’s student borrowers. The AGO’s office successfully filed a lawsuit against the firm Navient for unfair and deceptive loan practices, returning over $38 million to 1,400 Washingtonians and averaging more than $27,000 per borrower. Borrowers eligible for restitution payments do not need to take any action and will be notified of any incoming payments. This is a big victory for our state and nation and brings much-needed relief to hardworking students and workers. Click here for more information.

Save The Date: Virtual Town Hall on Feb. 19

I’ll join Reps. Drew Hansen and Tara Simmons for a Virtual 23rd District Town Hall on Feb. 19 at 11 a.m. Stay tuned for information on how to participate and watch online. In the meantime, if you have a question you would like answered during the event, you can submit it here.

I’ll continue to keep you updated as the session progresses and please always feel free to contact me at Christine.Rolfes@leg.wa.gov.

Stay healthy,

Christine