girl standing on grass field facing away from camera holding a Washington state flag

2023 Legislative Session Report

Amber Ulvenes
WCAAP Legislative Liaison

The Washington State Legislature finished its business on time, with the Sine Die gavel dropping at 10:04 pm on Sunday, April 23. Democrats, with confidence strengthened by November election results and a large majority, focused their efforts on gun violence prevention, housing and homelessness, workforce issues, police pursuit, and reproductive rights. For those of you that joined us for work on the ground on some of these issues, you know that this was another great session for families.

As it has been for several years, behavioral health was top of WCAAP’s legislative priorities and we achieved multiple budget investments as well as policy change:

  • Increased funding for Washington’s Mental Health Referral Service for Children & Teens and the First Approach Skills Training (FAST) program, $1.6m.
  • 15% increase in Medicaid reimbursement for behavioral health counseling.
  • $10m in loan repayment funds for the Washington Health Corps and $10m in loan repayment funding dedicated to behavioral health professionals.
  • Funding at the Department of Health for ongoing training of pediatric community health workers (CHW), including a learning collaborative facilitated by WCAAP to ensure CHW role clarity and success in their clinic teams.
  • Funding for to continue the pediatric CHW pilot to completion and direction to the Washington State Health Care Authority to evaluate the program and seek sustainable funding for it to continue and be brought to scale.
  • Passage of HB 1580, creating multisystem crisis response teams to meet the needs of youth who are stuck in hospitals for behavioral needs.

In meeting social needs for families, we are thrilled to see HB 1238, free school meals for kids, pass and be funded in the final budget. While we began the 2023 session advocating for free school meals for all kids in Washington State, the cost proved too high to make that a reality this year, in the context of the state budget and economy. We did achieve a big win for kids in passing this bill and associated funding free school meals for all kids in buildings with at least 30% of students on free and reduced lunch.

Juvenile justice has also become a top policy area for the Chapter. This year we focused on Raise the Age, SB 5434, and encouraged lawmakers to better understand pre-adolescent brain development, the importance of trauma-informed systems of care, and generally how important it is to treat kids as kids or face worsening consequences later. Unfortunately, this bill died, but will automatically come back to life for the 2024 legislative session as it is the second year of the biennium. SB 5365, decriminalizing commercial tobacco/vaping for youth and enacting “supports not sanctions” for kids possessing, using, or purchasing tobacco did finally pass after several years of advocacy.

Firearm injury prevention has been a longstanding priority for us and your voices made an incredible difference in gun safety legislation this year! HB 1240, the assault weapons ban and HB 1243, to establish a 10-day waiting period and mandated safety training for all firearm purchases are huge victories, continuing to make Washington State leader in the US for common-sense gun safety laws.

After many years, mandated insurance coverage for hearing aids passed, as well as a broader authorization for dental therapy work from tribal health centers to FQHCs.

Your advocacy and support were phenomenal this year, from attending Advocacy Day, testifying on bills, serving on the legislative committee and to responding to those action alerts. These amazing things would not have happened without pediatricians willing to take time to do the work, and I hope you take time to celebrate these victories.