Inside Olympia: Legislative session 2021 is now underway

January 11, 2021

The 2021 legislative session begins today. This year’s session is the first in the two-year biennium and will last for 105 days, making it a “long” session. This year’s session will be dramatically different than in years past, with hearings and most voting being held virtually due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. This is also the session where lawmakers need to pass the budget for the next biennium – which will be challenging given the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s economy.

The WSHA Board of Directors recently approved WSHA 2021 legislative agenda. Below are the top issues WSHA will be working to advance:

  • Joining the Nurse Licensure Compact, which is a network of 34 states that allows nurses to obtain a multistate license to practice in any participating state. Joining the Compact would help Washington mitigate our state’s nursing shortage by allowing nurses to more quickly begin practicing when they arrive in our state. It would also be beneficial for nurses in border communities and for military families that relocate frequently.
  • Establishing limited liability protection for providers as they face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been evolving and sometimes conflicting directions from health officials regarding treatment for COVID-19 patients. There have been shortages of PPE and testing supplies. While the right thing to do at the time, the governor’s proclamation in March 2020 on non-urgent procedures resulted in delayed or missed health screenings and diagnoses. Providers have been left vulnerable by these circumstances that are out of their control. The state’s current standard of care law governing health care providers should still apply but be qualified, giving special consideration to additional factors during the declared emergency.
  • Establishing a core set of waivers to state laws that can be quickly enacted in the event of an emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster. There are 30 state laws that must be immediately waived for hospitals to surge in the event of an emergency. By expediting these core waivers, the health care community can respond to emergencies much quicker.
  • Increasing access to health care services through audio-only telemedicine. The state’s current definition of telemedicine specifically excludes audio-only services. This can preclude our rural communities, senior citizens and low-income patients from accessing the care they need if they only have audio communication capabilities, making this a matter of health equity. WSHA supports reimbursement for these visits at the same rate as in-person visits to maintain their viability. WSHA also supports ensuring the patient has an established relationship with the provider or a referral from an in-person provider to be eligible for audio-only services.
  • Extending the state’s exemption to Certificate of Need requirements when it comes to adding psychiatric beds. The current exemption – which allows acute care hospitals to add unlimited short- and long-term psychiatric beds and allows freestanding psychiatric facilities to add up to 30 short- or long-term psychiatric beds – expires on June 30, 2021. WSHA supports extending this exemption through June 30, 2025. WSHA also supports allowing freestanding psychiatric facilities a one-time expansion of up to 30 beds for patients on 90- and 180-day civil commitments or a one-time expansion of up to 30 beds for all other types of psychiatric patients. These exemptions will be critical to helping the state move forward in its 5-year plan to move long-term civil commitment patients out of Western and Eastern state hospitals and into community settings, where they can be closer to home.

You can read our full list of legislative priorities on our website. Policy and budget briefs are now available on our website as well.

Testimony: We need your help!

Your testimony is critical to helping enact legislation that will strengthen our health care system. Some bills introduced this session will get hearings before committees. Testimony will be given virtually this year, and if you are asked to testify, we hope you will be able to log on to tell your hospital’s story and explain to lawmakers how their decisions will impact patient care. Our Government Affairs team will help you navigate this new, virtual format.

Join us for our legislative kickoff webcast Thursday, Jan. 21

Join us at noon on Thursday, Jan. 21 for our state legislative session kickoff webcast. The members-only webcast will cover what to expect during the 2021 legislative session and give an overview of WSHA’s legislative priorities and hot topics. The webcast will include an opportunity to ask questions of WSHA’s Government Affairs leaders. It will also be recorded for members to view at their convenience. Register now and add the webcast to your calendar.

Hospital Advocacy Week, Feb. 1-5
The Legislature is Going Virtual This Year – and So Are We!

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19, the Legislature is taking its operations online. This means they will not be meeting with the public in-person.

This year it is even more important that hospitals elevate their voices with lawmakers. To accommodate a virtual event, we are extending this advocacy event over a week and WSHA will focus on making appointments with certain target legislators: those who are members of health care or fiscal committees, those in leadership positions and those who were newly elected. For all other legislators, we ask that you try to connect with them during this time.

WSHA Weighing In: Jan. 11-15

WSHA is weighing in on the following bills this week:
Wednesday, Jan. 13

  • House Health Care & Wellness
    • HB 1031: Concerning the government issuance of a certificate of birth resulting in a stillbirth. (Alicia Eyler)

Thursday, Jan. 14

  • House Capital Budget
    • HB 1080: Concerning the capital budget (placeholder bills for the later budget). (Andrew Busz)
    • HB 1081: Concerning the state obligation bonds and related accounts (placeholder bills for the later budget). (Andrew Busz)
  • House Finance
    • HB 1095: Concerning the taxation of governmental financial assistance programs addressing the impacts of conditions giving rise to a gubernatorial or presidential emergency proclamation by creating state business and occupation tax and state public utility tax exemptions, a sales and use tax exemption for the receipt of such financial assistance, and clarifying the sales and use tax obligations for goods and services purchased by recipients of such financial assistance. (Andrew Busz)
  • House Health Care & Wellness
    • HB 1074: Concerning overdose and suicide fatality reviews. (Alicia Eyler)
  • Senate Environment, Energy & Technology
    • SB 5062: Concerning the management, oversight and use of data. (Alicia Eyler)
  • Senate Law & Justice
    • SB 5025: Concerning the consumer protection improvement act. (Zosia Stanley)
    • SB 5034: Concerning non-profit corporations. (David Streeter)

Friday, Jan. 15

  • Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee to Health & Long-Term Care
    • SB 5071: Creating transition teams to assist specified persons under civil commitment. (Jaclyn Greenberg)
    • SB 5073: Concerning involuntary commitment. (Jaclyn Greenberg)


Contact Us

Washington State Hospital Association
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Seattle, WA 98104

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