Assessing the Session

By Josh Feit April 27, 2009

Now that the legislative session in Olympia is over (I-937 notwithstanding), it's time for the liner notes. 

For example, who's PubliCola's lobbyist of the year? (The nominations are still pouring in). Who were the stand out legislators? Who dropped the ball? How devastating is this budget? 

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown came into the session looking like a potential frontrunner for next governor. How does she look now that we're on the other side?

Speaker of the House Rep. Frank Chopp came into the session with a lulu Viaduct plan. Did that failed flight of fancy, or his vengeful response—petulantly forcing a showy anti-Seattle amendment into the bill—damage his reputation and his hold on power? What of the Blue/Green coalition? 

Did all the taboo talk of an income tax (and raising the sales tax) spark the beginnings of a shape-shifting conversation about Washington state's "unfair" tax system, or does the fact that both ideas crash and burned this session mean there's no chance for tax reform?

(I do know that the Senate is planning to push the income tax issue again next year, and a crew of bigwig citizens like Bill Gates Sr. and Hugh Spitzer are hot to run an income tax initiative in 2010.)

We'll be mulling over as many of these questions as we can this week. In the meantime, advocacy groups that spent the session haggling in Olympia are starting to offer their assessments. 

I've linked the reports from  Planned Parenthood and NARAL below the jump. Both women's advocacy groups note some policy successes—like support for medically accurate sex ed programs— but mostly focus on the drastic cuts to family planning services.

According to Planned Parenthood:
The 2009-2011 operating budget cuts the largest state-only family planning fund by 10% in year one of the biennium, to $4.5 million, and then cuts it 70% in mid-2010 to $1.5 million, based on a hope that the federal government will fix the Medicaid family planning program before the next legislative session.



2009-11 Operational Budget Bill Does Not Do Enough to Protect Women’s Health

Budget released this morning preserves funding for over 70 family planning nurses, but eliminates state spending on birth control and other family planning services in the second year.


The Washington legislature’s bill for the 2009-11 operational budget has good news and bad news for women’s health.  The bill maintains funding for over 70 family planning nurses, who provide birth control to low-income women in community service office across the state.  At the same time, however, the budget completely eliminates state spending on family planning grants in the second year of the biennium.


“While we applaud the protection of the family planning nurses, we are still deeply disappointed in the cuts to family planning,” said Karen Cooper, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.  “With no guarantee that there will be sufficient money in 2011 for critical – and cost saving – birth control for low-income women, this budget bill represents an unacceptable risk for women’s health and the fiscal health of the state.”


The legislature hopes that the federal government will provide the missing funds for family planning in 2011.  The bill instructs the legislature to include funding in a supplemental budget should federal money fail to arrive.


“We have no way of knowing for sure if this federal money for family planning services will arrive in time,” said Cooper.  “Nor do we have any indication that the state will have the resources next year to fill the gap if we don’t secure funding in the budget now.”


The elimination of state funding for family planning will result in an increased burden on state taxpayers.  Upwards of 20,000 low-income women will be unable to access their family planning needs and as much as $19 million in additional unintended pregnancy care fees will fall to the state to pay.


“NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is mobilizing our statewide network of members and activists to tell the legislature to stand up for women’s health and amend the budget bill to include funding for family planning for the full biennium,” added Cooper.  “With more and more women in need of assistance accessing reproductive health care, now is not the time to eliminate state spending on family planning.”





Legislature takes strong policy steps but punts to 2010 on family planning funding


 New policy moved reproductive rights forward decisively in Washington during the legislative session that concluded last night, but ironically, access to family planning care for low-income people was drastically reduced in the final budget.  Among the successes counted by reproductive rights advocates was a bill that builds on the success of the Healthy Youth Act of 2007 by ensuring Washington will only pursue sexual health education programs that are medically accurate and proven effective.   


Despite over 25,000 contacts to legislators made by Planned Parenthood supporters and constituents advocating to retain cost effective and life-saving family planning funding, the final budget adopted by the legislature cuts family planning services funding for over 14,000 low-income Washingtonians and could result in taxpayer costs of over $16 million dollars in new state funded unintended pregnancy care.




Ø  SB 5629 – Originally known as the Proven Programs Act, this bill ensures that state applications for sexual health education funds are limited to programs that are medically accurate and proven effective.  Additionally, this bill eliminates the requirement that the state apply for discredited federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program funds.  Delivered to the Governor April 22nd.


Ø  SB 5945 – This health partnership bill sets a goal for Washington to work with the federal government on health care reform to cover all Washingtonians by 2014.  It also directs the Department of Social and Health Service to apply to the federal government for increased eligibility for full-scope Medicaid and the Take Charge Medicaid family planning program.  Delivered to the Governor April 25th


Ø  E2SSB 5688 – This bill provides couples who register as domestic partners with all the state rights and responsibilities that come with legal marriage.  Those eligible to register as domestic partners are same gender couples and opposite gender couples where one member is 62 or over. Delivered to the Governor April 23rd


Ø  SB 5282 – The “Safe Baby Bottles Act” bans bisphenol A (BPA), a toxin known to harm reproductive development, from baby bottles and cups designed for children aged three and under.  While this bill has not yet passed, it is still in play and may be acted upon in the upcoming special legislative session. 




The 2009-2011 operating budget cuts the largest state-only family planning fund by 10% in year one of the biennium, to $4.5 million, and then cuts it 70% in mid-2010 to $1.5 million, based on a hope that the federal government will fix the Medicaid family planning program before the next legislative session. Though budget leaders acknowledged the need for family planning services by including budget language that commits to backfilling family planning funds in 2010 if federal funding does not materialize, providers call this approach impractical and improbable, and say legislators have simply put off the problem to next year when funding may be even tighter.


“Assuming that federal funds will materialize in just eight months to fix a family planning crisis for low-income patients that has been going on for four years is wishful thinking at best,” said Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood VOTES! Washington. “We’re glad the legislature supports family planning, but they just punted the problem to next year.”


 “Family planning programs save over $4 in Washington for every $1 invested. It doesn’t make any sense to cut a program this cost-effective.” said Jennifer Allen, Director of Public Policy, Planned Parenthood VOTES! Washington. “Providers are grateful for the legislature’s commitment to ensure no further cut to family planning in 2010, but we feel certain that more state funding will be needed to meet that commitment and where will it come from?  We’d better find it though, or we’ll be needing $16 million instead for a major increase in state-funded unintended pregnancy care costs.” 




In 2007-2009, the Washington State Legislature allocated $10 million for family planning to help serve the low income people no longer able to access the Medicaid family planning program Take Charge.  Enrollment in Take Charge dropped by 51% from May 2005 to August 2008 because of burdensome federal restrictions. The legislative funding allocation filled less than half of the funding gap; in reality the funding lost for family planning services to the more than 46,000 people who have dropped from Take Charge amounts to over $22 million.


Almost 175,000 people received family planning services at Washington state funded clinics in 2007. For many, family planning services - including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control and blood pressure checks – are their only source of basic health care and are a critical gateway to the health care system.


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