Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's an honor to serve as your 26th District state representative. As I mentioned in my legislative wrap-up, we accomplished some great things this year! We saved the USS Turner Joy, a retired U.S. Naval Destroyer ship docked in Bremerton, by securing $300,000 for repairs in the 2016 supplemental capital budget. These funds will ensure an important part of our state's military history is preserved and that we won't be spending money in the future on a replacement breakwater for the Bremerton Marina. KING 5 News ran a story on the funding being secured, which you can watch here.
This session, my seatmates and I worked together to prevent tolls from increasing on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We added an amendment to the 2016 supplemental transportation budget that provided $2.5 million for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account, which removed any need for tolls to increase.
There is so much we can do when we work together!
House Bill 2498 to go into effect in June
Many barriers to medical care exist within our Medicaid system due to the regulatory structure currently in place. My House Bill 2498, which was signed into law by the governor last month, seeks to improve the prior authorization system for dental providers in medical assistance programs. The bill was inspired by a mother in Bremerton who spent months advocating on behalf of her daughter, who needed dental surgery. After finding a dentist who accepted Medicaid, the prior authorization sat on the Health Care Authority's desk for months while her daughter's face began swelling from a cyst. Her mother made several phone calls to get help, but did not receive any until she contacted her 26th District representatives. After reaching out to us, her daughter was able to get the prior authorization approved and the surgery performed.
My bill has shed light on these types of problems in our Medicaid system. The work group established by the bill will be helpful in looking for ways to address the challenges dental providers face when confronted with burdensome and unnecessary regulations such as the prior authorization process.
An update on other legislation
I have and will continue to hold meetings with a variety of stakeholders to work on the language of a couple of bills I introduced this session that didn't make it through the legislative process. With a few adjustments, I believe House Bills 2500 and 2501 could be approved by both chambers and become law next year.
House Bill 2500 passed 96-1 in the House, but did not make it out of the Senate. Last year, I heard the story of Runaway Ray, a partially-blind Shetland pony found wandering the Key Peninsula by a local resident. Due to state rules governing stray livestock, the resident was not allowed to keep Ray. Instead, the county boarded him and searched for his rightful owner. After the owner could not be found, Ray was auctioned off at a public auction. I joined members of the Key Peninsula community at that auction, including the resident, and was happy to witness her place the winning bid to claim him. However, the entire ordeal could've been avoided with a small change to state law, which is why I introduced House Bill 2500. The bill would provide an opportunity for families to purchase stray horses and ponies instead of requiring them to be auctioned off.
Some of the agricultural groups interested in the bill had concerns with the original wording because a brand inspector would be required to go to an individual's home to identify the animal(s). We sat down and agreed the animal(s) could be inspected at the facilities they are currently using. We are drafting the verbiage for this change as we speak.
I'll also be meeting with stakeholders about House Bill 2501, which addresses medication coordination for mentally-ill individuals when they are incarcerated. Poor communication exists between our jails and mental-health centers, which cannot continue. We must ensure all mentally-ill individuals who require medication are treated with the care they deserve. During interim, I will be having discussions with individuals from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, behavioral health organizations and managed care health systems. I am hopeful with some small tweaks, we'll be able to get this bill to the governor's desk next session. This year, it passed the House 97-0, but died in the Senate.
Education task force continuing
Though there is much more work to do, we are making steady progress in our efforts to ensure Washington state has a world-class education system. Last year, the 2015-17 operating budget showed the Legislature's dedication to education by boosting K-12 education spending a record 19 percent over the previous budget. Forty-eight percent of the operating budget now goes toward K-12 education – the largest percentage in 30 years. Additionally, the budget provided cost-of-living adjustments to hardworking teachers and state employees who had gone without state raises for years.
As a member of the House Education Committee, I see the incredible work being done on both sides of the aisle to enact policies that will benefit teachers and students alike. Additionally, I visit schools regularly to meet with students and teachers to learn about their successes and challenges, and to ask what more we can be doing as legislators to help them. Many of the challenges within our K-12 education system can be solved if we commit to working together.
Last interim, I formed a nonpartisan education task force comprised of educators with various backgrounds and experience levels. We met several times to talk about legislation we believed would help improve outcomes in the classroom. Our discussions led to my introduction of House Bill 2429 and my co-sponsorship of House Bill 2382.
House Bill 2429 would require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide test results to parents and teachers no later than June 15. This change would allow students to take remedial courses during the summer, if necessary, and enable teachers and counselors to place students in courses appropriate for them.
Another topic of conversation at our meetings was the current teacher shortage. I co-sponsored House Bill 2382 (prime sponsored by Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah), which would provide alternative ways to become certified as a teacher. The bill would require the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board to work with education agencies, educators and employers to create a public awareness campaign designed to increase recruitment into teacher preparation programs.
There are more discussions to be had, and I am grateful for the educators who took part in the task force last year. I look forward to continuing our work this interim. If you are an educator and interested in attending one of our meetings, please send me an email at Michelle.Caldier@leg.wa.gov and I'll be in touch.
Serving our community at the Key Free Clinic
After our dental team donated more than $9,000 of dental care earlier this month at the Key Free Clinic in Lakebay, I also decided to donate my quarterly legislative salary increase to the clinic. I am so impressed with the dedication of the volunteers there, who have provided medical and dental care to those unable to pay since 2013. The News Tribune ran a wonderful story on the clinic yesterday, which I encourage you to read.
A note on election-year restrictions
This is an election year, which means there are limits on how and when I can contact you. After this email update, the soonest I can send another is just before the 2017 legislative session convenes. However, I will still be able to directly respond to your questions, so I encourage you to write, email or call. When you do so, please be clear that you would like a response from me and my office to ensure we are not contacting you outside of the ethics provisions explained above. My number is (360) 786-7802, and my email address is Michelle.Caldier@leg.wa.gov.
It's an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.