OLYMPIA – A bill to mandate testing and certification for individuals providing language access for state services was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee Friday.

The new law requires the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to ensure all language access providers are fluent in English and a primary non-English language and successfully pass oral and written tests to evaluate their language competence, interpreting performance skills, understanding of the interpreter’s role and knowledge of DSHS policies.

SB 5304, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), is a significant step forward in providing high-quality interpretation services for people with limited English proficiency, particularly in medical settings. DSHS certified interpreters are used by various state agencies, including the Health Care Authority for Medicaid clients, the Department of Labor and Industries, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, in addition to DSHS.

The new law also prohibits financially interested entities from performing certifications and requires DSHS to convene a workgroup to study and make recommendations to the Legislature regarding interpreter service certification policies and programs for limited and non-English speaking Washingtonians.

“Language access is critical to ensuring all Washingtonians have access to the services they need to thrive,” Saldaña said. “This legislation will help guarantee interpreters are properly trained and certified and patients receive high-quality interpretation services.”

The bill’s passage is particularly important given a previous decision by DSHS to outsource testing and certification program for interpreters, resulting in an inadequate testing process and a conflict of interest.

“Skilled interpretation plays a vital role in both health care and social services, and SB 5304 will help to ensure the non-English speaking residents of our state have access to quality and reliable interpretation,” said Quan Tran, Vietnamese interpreter and union president of Interpreters United Local 1671.

Washington state leads the way in ensuring high-quality interpretation services, and this legislation is a crucial step forward in achieving that goal.