2012 Lobby Day

2012 Legislative Report
Prepared for NASW – WA Chapter

Prepared By:  Bob Cooper, Managing Partner, Evergreen Public Affairs

The WA Legislature adjourned shortly before breakfast on the morning of April 11th, the 108th legislative day since they first convened in a special session to address a looming budget shortfall on the Monday following Thanksgiving. And while initial projections included potentially devastating cuts to community and social service programs, the end result was relatively shallow reductions in such spending. In total, lawmakers spent 17 days in special session in November and December of last year, 60 days in regular “short” session, another 30 days in “special” session, plus just shy of 8 hours the morning of April 11 in a second “special” session for 2012 to wrap up business. (A biennial “long” session is 105 days.)

A significant upward revision in anticipated revenues lessened the crisis. And after accusations of “accounting tricks” (one side proposing to postpone the June, 2013, payment of $330 million to local school districts and the other proposing to skip a $133 million payment to the state’s most under-funded pension plans) a $238 million change in how local sales taxes are carried on the state’s books helped balance the ledger. There were approximately $300 million in cuts as well.

Lawmakers also ended a business and occupation tax exemption for big bank earnings from 1st mortgage interest ($14 million) and put taxes for roll-your-own cigarettes on par with manufactured cigarettes ($12 million).

Disability Lifeline – both the Medical Care Services (MCS) and the Housing & Essential Needs (HENS) components – were fully preserved. Budget writers did capture a $5 million under-expenditure in the program, but it will not affect services going forward.

Mental Health expenditures are cut very little, with no reductions to the Regional Support Networks (RSN’s). Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment and Support Act (ADATSA) funding also saw funding reduced relatively little — $2.1m for residential and sheltered services generally, as opposed to the original proposal to completely close the Pioneer East treatment center.

Funding for the State Food Assistance program (SFA) remained stable, after some earlier proposals to eliminate the program. SFA provides food stamp-like benefits to immigrants lawfully residing in the U.S. who would otherwise be eligible for food assistance except for their immigration status. This includes legal residents of the Marshall Islands who cannot live in their homeland because it is contaminated from years of U.S. nuclear testing, and immigrants who have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years. However, SFA benefits will be cut from equality with food stamps to 50% of food stamp benefit levels after the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a temporary restraining order that had prevented the state from reducing benefits.

$567k General Fund for homelessness assistance in the Commerce Department is supplanted by the new document recording fee authorized under HB 2048, which is expected to raise $4.4m for homelessness assistance programs.

And while another “under-expenditure” was captured to balance the budget, there are no additional cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Some iterations of the budget had proposed a 20% reduction in the time families would be allowed to access the program and/or a 2% reduction in the meager grant amount. One version of the budget proposed restoring 1/3 of the 15% grant reduction taken in 2011. The final compromise was “status quo.”

Also:

• Working Connections Child Care eligibility level was raised to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
• No cut to Behavioral Rehabilitative Services.
• No cut to Street Youth Funding.
• No cut to the Responsible Living Skills program.
• No cut to Community Services Block Grant.
• No cut to Child Advocacy Centers or other crime victim services.
• $1.6m allocated for Performance Based Contracting of Child Welfare Services.
• $224k provided for the Evidence Based Practices legislation on children’s mental health services.

Other Legislation

Other bills on the NASW WA Chapter watch list that were passed by the legislature included:

Substitute House Bill 2357 that will allow counties adopting a 1/10th% sales tax increase for mental health and chemical dependency programs after December 31 of last year to supplant some local funds in existing programs over the next five years – similar to the authorization given in 2010 to other jurisdictions that had adopted the tax. The bill prompted Tacoma to adopt the tax, after Pierce County had refused to do so.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2366 mandates that, starting in 2014, suicide prevention training is required every six years for relicensing for licensed social workers, mental health counselors, marriage & family therapists, psychologists, occupational therapy practitioners, and certified counselors, advisors and chemical dependency professionals. The Secretary of Health is required under the bill to provide a report to the legislature by December of 2013 on the efficacy of such training on the ability of all licensed health care professionals to identify, treat, refer and / or manage patients with suicidal ideation.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 ends discrimination in marriage by legally recognizing as “marriage” the union of two people of the same gender. A petition drive is underway to put the measure on the fall ballot which, if successful, delays the effective date until early December.

House Bill 2263 requires savings from lowering the foster care caseload to be reinvested in child welfare programs.

House Bill 2264 changes some provisions for contracting child welfare services, including removal of the mandate to convert the system to performance-based contracts and delaying the demonstration site contracts for case management of child welfare services to the end of 2015.

Senate Bill 6555 creates an alternative to full blown investigations in child abuse/neglect cases called “Family Assessment Response” focusing on the safety of the child while also considering family preservation.

 

Bills that did not pass, but are expected to be reintroduced in future legislative sessions, included:

HB 2230, to require an Administrative Law Judge to preside over disciplinary hearings. The legislation would also create an additional level of administrative appeal to the Secretary of Health for negative rulings.

HB 2462, providing explicit immunity for employees who offer referrals to or information about death with dignity organizations in end of life counseling, even if the referrals or information are in conflict with an employer’s religious or philosophical objections or policies.

2012 is what is euphemistically referred to in Olympia as “an even numbered year” – code for “election year.” All 98 House members and half of the 49 Senate members are up for election this year, along with all statewide offices. With Governor Gregoire not running for reelection, there will be a new occupant in the Governor’s office – either Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) or Congressman Jay Inslee (D).

And with the Presidential election, the likely marriage equality referendum measure, three open congressional seats in Washington, and an unpredictable economy, the complexion of next year’s legislative session is somewhere between very difficult and impossible to predict.

2012 Legislative Session