The Healthy Download on Legislative Session

Mar 9, 2015 by

The Healthy Download on Legislative Session

Legislative Session – A Current View
March 9, 2015

We are in our ninth week of legislative session and it is time for a mid-course review. Overall this session is bumping along as expected with a few surprises along the way. In terms of COPC’s goals there is clear progress, however many of our priorities remain tied up with the Capital and Transportation budgets , which will not be finalized until later in this session.

 

So let’s review our priorities and see how they are faring:

 

Creating a Healthy, Level Playing Field for Our Schools: Capital Budget: We have been pushing for new, one-time funds to deploy water bottle filling stations across our neediest schools in our state – these stations provide efficient, clean and environmentally friendly access to drinking water (a healthy alternative to sugary drinks). We have also been supportive of a similar effort to enable schools to access new kitchen equipment to support more scratch cooking. The Governor’s budget rolled these items (and a few more) into one grant program. We like this idea and it might be an approach taken up by the legislature.

There is also an important ask to replenish the Youth Athletic Fund (YAF) that we are supporting. We are still a few weeks away from seeing this budget come into focus, so stay tuned.

Passing a Healthy Transportation Budget: There is a great deal of activity around the transportation budget this session. Earlier last week, the Senate passed out a series of bills that represent a new transportation revenue package. The revenue package is fraught with numerous political and actual content issues, but when the smoke cleared from the Senate floor Active Transportation supporters were happy with the results. The sixteen year package includes three discrete line items for: Safe Routes to School (see more information on our Safe Routes Healthy Kids campaign); Bicycle & Pedestrian; and Complete Streets to the tune of $266 million. A fairly simple revenue/expenditure balance sheet can be found here. A few additional bike/pedestrian-specific projects brings the Active Transportation total to $281.5 million. To put that in perspective, the last time we saw a full Senate package the total amount for Active Transportation was a big round zero.

Next up – the package heads over to the House where we believe there will be as much or even more support for the pieces we care about. Again, finalizing all three budgets (Operating, Transportation & Capital) are more end-stage legislative session and there can be some political horse-trading among these budgets (especially when there is new revenue in the mix), so expect a big flurry of activity in the late March to Sine die (end of session), currently slated for April 26. Of course, it is not unusual for our legislature to go into “extra innings” – so the fun could last deeper into spring.

Good Bills (that are still alive):

  • Breakfast after Bell (SHB 1295 & SSB 5437): both versions are moving along but the House version nudged ahead today and came off the House floor by a vote of 65-33, which means it garnered real bipartisan support

  • Dropout Prevention/Farming (HB 1568): an effort we have supported in the past; which is to take a model developed by a nonprofit in Olympia (GRuB) and pilot around the state with accompanying evaluation.

  • WA Food Policy Forum (SHB 1685): takes the work of the current Food Systems Roundtable and places it into an actual statewide Food Policy Council.

  • Distracted Driving (SSB 5656): updates our current laws regarding cell phone us and driving.

  • Outdoor Recreation (SSB 5843): takes up a few key recommendations from the recent report issued by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation. See here for their full report

While we are watching a number of other bills, we have only formally opposed one bill (SHB 1420) regarding school siting, which was heavily amended and is no longer a concern.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE: Overall, we are very cheered by all the various healthy communities initiatives still alive in the legislature. There does seem to be more appetite to hear about the “health lens” in sectors not accustomed to hearing from health voices. While it is clearly too early to claim any victories, the sheer number of budget items and policy bills that relate to healthy eating and active living tells us that “upstream” approaches can and should be taken up by our state policymakers.

 

For more detailed information on all of this, follow our weekly bill tracker, found on this page. Of course, look for upcoming Advocacy Alerts, when we get the opportunity to flex our Coalition muscle and demonstrate to our state elected officials that there is a real constituency behind all of these various issues.

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