Legislator Q&A: Senator Ann Rivers

This legislative session, we are highlighting a few of the legislators we have had the privilege of working closely with on issues pertaining to child health. Senator Ann Rivers serves as chair of the Senate Health Care committee and has demonstrated a commitment to child health and safety, including leadership on last session’s efforts to update distracted driving laws. Read on to learn a little bit more about Sen. Rivers:

Tell us a little bit about your family and community.
My husband Fred and I have two adult sons, Derick and Rex. There are now two girls in our house, meaning the little dogs we’ve taken in as rescues over the past year or so. We live in the country, not far from La Center, and love doing outdoor things. Lately we’ve been getting more serious about winter outdoor sports.

How did you get into public service?
I worked for the Alaska Legislature once upon a time, and that helped me see what ordinary people can do when they step forward and embrace the idea of “government of the people.” When I saw a need in our corner of Washington for someone to step forward, I decided to engage. And after seven years in office, I believe more than ever that the world is shaped by those who show up.

What are the issues you care most about – and why those issues?
All of us take things from our personal experience to Olympia – in my case it’s a mix of education and child-related issues and the needs of rural areas. My interest in updating what used to be the state’s no-texting law was heightened by the fact that my husband’s vehicle was rear-ended by a distracted driver a few years ago. And I’ve been willing to take the lead on complicated things like marijuana and rape kits, because there weren’t a lot of takers otherwise. But as someone who lives in southwest Washington, I care most about the issues that affect the people here. That’s a big reason why health care has become such a priority for me. I know as a health-care consumer that our region has significant challenges in that category, and I also hear about it from people wherever I go. Between issues like opioids, and access to care in areas like ours, and costs of care, the challenges in the health-care sector are formidable – but like other complicated issues, they’ve got to be addressed.

What does it mean to you to be able to work with your constituents on policy – for example, what was it like to be able to partner with Dr. Ebel on the distracted driving bill? Why is citizen advocacy important?
I have multiple constituencies – there are my constituents in the 18th District, then I have constituents in the education community, and having a leadership position in health care involves another constituency. And all of them are indispensable. They bring ideas for bills. They offer feedback on proposals. Like the distracted-driving bill – working with Dr. (Beth) Ebel allowed us to present a case that went beyond accident statistics. She explained how the use of electronic devices behind the wheel affects multiple senses and has an effect very similar to alcohol intoxication, and her testimony in committee about that, and how she was treating more and more kids who were hurt because of distracted driving…it was tremendous.

There is no overstating the importance of citizen advocacy. Let’s take health care policy. I know a few things about how to make policy, and I’m getting at least a little bit smarter about health care each day, even though it can be very challenging. But there is nothing like hearing directly from doctors and others in the health-care community about how the system is and isn’t working, and what’s right or wrong about that bill someone just introduced, and what might be done policy-wise to improve things for people. I talk about how the world is shaped by those who show up – that includes showing up to be a source of information for someone like me, or showing up to speak out about a bill. If you advocate for your position first, then it’s easier for someone else to pick up on that and become an advocate for you.

What are your goals for the 2018 session?
Let’s get our work wrapped up on time. And world peace would be nice.