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Senate bills passed Tuesday target criminal justice, health care

Several bills passed in the Senate Tuesday, covering a wide array of issues related to criminal justice, health care and families on public assistance. These bills all now head to the House  in the coming weeks as the legislative session reaches month two. Here’s a rundown of some of the bills that passed in the Senate on Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 6551 is the result of a series of recommendations from the International Medical Graduates Work Group, which was created by the legislature last year and mandated to recommend ways to reduce barriers for medical school graduates from other countries to finding work in the United States. Many immigrants and refugees who found their way to Washington State left behind careers in the medical profession, according to a press release from Senate Democrats, and face challenges to practicing their profession here. This bill aims to reduce those barriers and would allow migrants to Washington to more fully integrate into their communities, as well as reduce public health issues. The bill provides the added benefit of increasing the number of trained physicians, widens the pool of culturally competent care and broadens access to medical care for vulnerable communities. 

Senate Bill 6478 seeks to reduce the penalty to those who don’t meet current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) requirements so as not to punish children of TANF recipients who fall out of compliance. These families would get their TANF assistance reduced by 40 percent if they don’t try to find work or participate in workforce training programs for two months. Under current regulations, these recipients get their TANF benefits suspended completely if they don’t meet the requirements. The bill also stipulates that families will lose their TANF benefits if they don’t meet the new requirements for 12 months.

Senate Bill 6442 would ban the operation of private, for-profit prisons in the state, as well as prohibiting the Department of Corrections (DOC) from contracting with these prisons. The bill also limits the circumstances under which the state can transfer an inmate from a Washington facility to an out-of-state private prison or detention facility. According to the text of the bill, the legislature found that for-profit prisons prioritize shareholder profits over the provision of health care, safety and nutrition to inmates, among other basic human needs, and that the operation of private prisons runs counter to the state’s mandate to ensure health, safety and welfare of those incarcerated in the state’s criminal justice system. If the bill passes, Washington would join 22 other states in banning for-profit prisons.

Senate Bill 5488 would allow judges greater discretion when deciding cases involving adult defendants who are charged with committing a crime while under age 18. The bill grants judges the authority to consider the defendant’s age, lack of sophistication, susceptibility to peer pressure and age at the time the crime was committed. Judges overseeing these types of cases could refrain from imposing the mandatory sentencing requirements after considering the circumstances surrounding a defendant’s youth at the time the crime was committed, allowing the judge to impose a lesser sentence than what law requires. 

Senate Bill 6638 would permit the Health Care Authority to restore an inmate’s Medicaid benefits up to 90 days before release from incarceration, and offers reentry services as an optional benefit under coverage provided by the Community Behavioral Health Services Act. Providing these benefits to incarcerated people about to be released helps them transition back into society, according to a press release from the Sen. Claire Wilson’s office. The bill would also require community behavioral health agencies to extend care services to people recently released from incarceration after committing a crime exacerbated by mental health. 

Three different bills sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33rd District) passed Tuesday that would all lower prescription drug prices. Senate Bill 6087 would limit the cost of insulin to $100 a month for patients paying for the drug out-of-pocket and requires the Health Care Authority (HCA) to keep tabs on the price of insulin. Also targeting the cost of insulin, Senate Bill 6113 would align the state’s purchasing process for insulin with the process used to buy childhood vaccines. That bill would form a work group to put together a purchasing strategy that would allow the Northwest Prescription Drug Consortium to be the single purchaser of insulin in the state. Senate Bill 6088 would form a prescription drug affordability board to find out if price caps are necessary on drug prices and drug price increases. This board would identify brand-name drugs and treatments priced above $30,000 a year and those that have a price increase of more than $3,000 in a 12-month period. This board would also target similar drugs that cost less than 15 percent of the price of the brand drug, as well as generic drugs that cost more than $100 a month.


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