Legislative briefs

Control hazing

Sam Martinez, a freshman at Washington State University, was found dead from alcohol poisoning just weeks into the 2019 school year. He was the victim of a hazing tradition at his fraternity.

Now his mother is pressing for rules that would prevent future tragedies.

The bill would require the University of Washington to prohibit hazing, to

provide an educational program on hazing and include the UW’s anti-hazing policy in institutional materials on student rights and responsibilities.

It also requires institutions of higher education to maintain and publicly report violations of codes of conduct, anti-hazing policies, or state and federal laws relating to hazing offenses related to alcohol, drugs, sexual assault or physical assault. Schools would also need to provide hazing prevention education to every employee.

Enroll by 5

Early childhood education is so critical to student success that now some educators are pushing for enrollment in school by age 5.

Currently, Washington parents are allowed to delay their child’s enrollment until age 8. If Senate Bill 5537 passes, they’ll be the last in the nation to do so. The Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee held a public hearing on the bill Jan. 14.

Homeschool advocates are opposed to the idea and say requirements would be a potential burden for parents and children alike.

Cosmetic woes

For a large portion of Washingtonians, the use of cosmetic products is a part of their everyday routine, but some of those products often contain harmful chemicals that cause a variety of health risks.

A bill making its way through the Legislature would require manufacturers to adhere to more transparent label requirements. Similar bills that monitor and prevent the distribution of cosmetic

products have already passed in California and Maryland.

“It’s a simple bill that will have a huge impact on the health and well-being of many of our community members,” said Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent.

Cold-water signs

Zachary Lee Rager’s family has been pushing for educational signs warning people about cold-water shock ever since he drowned last March after jumping into the Chehalis River.

The proposed “Zack’s Law” is now House Bill 1595 and companion Senate Bill 5673. “If we can get these signs in place, and it saves even one person, then my son didn’t die in vain,” Zachary’s mother, Kimberly Hines, said during an emotional testimony at the Jan. 14 House Transportation Committee’s public hearing.

Bill sponsors Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, and Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, worked with the family to create the two pieces of legislation.

Oil spill regs

The financial responsibility for an oil spill will fall on those who own the facilities and vessels that produce and transport oil under proposed House Bill 1691.

“The goal is to minimize the permanent long-standing damage that can happen when a catastrophic spill happens,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of the bill. The law would require the owners of oil vessels and facilities to demonstrate their financial ability to pay for its oil damages and to obtain a certificate of financial responsibility from the Department of Ecology.

College help

College students struggling to balance the cost of higher education with everyday expenses will have the burden slightly alleviated if lawmakers pass a bill increasing access to funds through the Washington College Grant program.

The House College & Workforce Development Committee held a hearing for House Bill 1659 Jan. 12 that aims to modify the WCG program by increasing award eligibility and providing an annual stipend for expenses beyond tuition and fees.

Currently, WCG funds exclusively help cover the cost of tuition and other education-related expenses. The bill would lower income eligibility thresholds, allowing more students to take advantage of funding.

Women’s Suffrage

Women fought a decades-long battle for the right to vote, and now lawmakers want to memorialize the crusade by designating March 22 Women’s Suffrage Day.

The 19th Amendment, prohibiting voting discrimination on the basis of sex, was passed over a century ago, with Washington becoming the 35th of 36 states to ratify on March 22, 1920.

Janie White, representing the Washington Education Association, voiced support for the bill. “I am a vice president of a union that is 70% women,” she said. “We know the right of women to vote is critical.”

White also suggested representatives consider changing the holiday date, urging for inclusivity in the celebration. “Many black women remained disenfranchised because the nineteenth amendment did not eliminate state laws that operated to keep Black Americans from the polls,” she said.

Homeless students

Homeless students at community and technical colleges across the state will get the help they need if House Bill 1601 becomes law.

If passed, the bill would provide homeless students and students who age out of the foster care system help with access to laundry storage, shower facilities, locker rooms, food banks, technology, reduced-price meals or meal plans, case management services and short-term housing/housing assistance.

“This results in people not being able to graduate or go onto a career. It hurts our students, our institutions and our local communities,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, said Jan. 11 during the House College and Workforce Development Committee hearing. She added this program will help many homeless and former foster care students for years to come as well as the many businesses that need employees.

Election protection

Election officials will get more protection from harassment if Senate Bill 5148 becomes law.

The bill was approved in the Senate Jan. 12.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said the bill will address a “grievous threat” to our democratic system.

Frockt’s bill proposes new protections for all election officials. The bill elevates the crime of harassment to a class C felony. If SB 5148 becomes law, any harassment directed at elected officials would be punishable by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Nurse training

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is the only hospital in the state that provides training for nurses to become sexual assault nurse examiners, also known as SANE.

A bill in this year’s state legislature is aimed at taking down barriers to training, especially for those coming from rural and underserved areas.

The House Health Care & Wellness Committee held a virtual session Jan. 10 to discuss House Bill 1621, that would establish a stipend program for nurses for them to complete a training course designed by the international association of forensic nurses.