OLYMPIA — A series of bills recently signed into law will sustain access to health care at rural hospitals, shield emergency dispatchers from potential distractions, assist small farmers who suffer crop damages, and create a memorial for fallen firefighters.

All the bills were sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sutherland) and will take effect June 6.

SB 5940 will maintain levels of medical care in rural areas by allowing hospitals to hire highly trained, volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to provide medical care. The bill creates medical assistant-EMT certification for EMTs with advanced EMT certification or paramedic certification, qualifying them to perform an expanded range of medical care under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

“This bill addresses two big concerns for rural communities – the ability of rural hospitals to find well-trained staff with skills in high demand, and the availability of good jobs for local folks who don’t want to have to move away from their communities to find work.”

SB 5808 removes potential distractions for emergency dispatchers by extending to them the binding interest arbitration process used for first responders such as firefighters and law officers.

“When a dispatcher takes a call from someone who needs help, you want their mind on nothing but the job at hand – not nagging worries like contract negotiations that have stalled for no good reason,” said Van De Wege, a career firefighter. “Dispatchers have to make split-second decisions, and you need a clear head for that.”

SB 5784, signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee, modernizes long-outdated state rates for mitigating crop damage caused by deer and elk, raising the limits for claims and prioritizing their payout according to the highest percent of loss compared to gross sales to ensure that small farmers will receive faster relief.

“I’m sure this program met the needs of farmers back when it was created in 1947, but the rates of compensation have fallen behind the times,” Van De Wege said. “This bill addresses the needs of small farmers and an industry that generates valuable revenues for our state.”

Van De Wege’s bill to establish a memorial on the Capitol Campus for firefighters who die in the line of duty, SB 5946, passed in the form of House companion legislation, HB 2091. The memorial will be built and maintained through gifts and grants and was inspired in part by the death of one of Van De Wege’s coworkers a year ago.

“This memorial means a lot to me personally – I know people whose names will be on it – but its relevance extends to communities all over our state,” Van De Wege said. “It’s hard for me to think of more important or rewarding work than the safety of my neighbors, but for too many of my colleagues that service has come at a steep price.”