Submitted by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a package of five COVID-19 related bills into law on March 17 to boost the statewide response to the recent outbreak.
Following the first COVID-19-related death in our state in late February, Inslee declared a state of emergency. The emergency proclamation directed state agencies to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to the outbreak. These bills secure additional funding for the state’s effort to mitigate the virus’ spread.
“I’d like to thank all Washingtonians for stepping up in the fight against this virus,” Inslee said. “People are making tremendous sacrifices to slow the spread. These bills will help ensure that our state has resources to help. I thank the Legislature for their unanimous, bipartisan support to provide necessary funding.”
Inslee signed the bills in Olympia with media and the public watching via streaming video and telephone to practice social distancing measures. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the governor’s office is not doing public bill signings.
Here’s a breakdown of each bill:
State’s response to COVID-19
This bill will provide $200 million to state agencies, local government and tribal governments who are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The new law moves $175 million from the Budget Stabilization Account to the Disaster Response Account for COVID-19 mitigation. It also authorizes the state to distribute $25 million of federal funds to local governments and federally-recognized tribes.
Additionally, the bill permits using $25 million from the Budget Stabilization Account to assist businesses with unemployment impacts.
As the virus spreads throughout the state, it is projected that hospital capacity will be strained with the influx of new patients as providers try to take care of their patients dealing with other medical conditions. The law creates more hospital capacity to counter those projections.
The bill also funds expanded virus testing at the University of Washington to supplement the limited number of tests available through the federal government and private labs. It also creates a plan to enforce social distancing efforts for Washingtonians experiencing homelessness.
Health care provider credentialing
This new law works to increase surge capacity in the state’s health care workforce in response to the influx of patients due to COVID-19.
To account for the increasing number of individuals in the health care system, and to ensure care to both COVID-19 patients and others, there needs to be an increase in health care workers and providers. This bill reduces credentialing delays for health care workers to get them out in the workforce faster to respond to the outbreak.
It also helps ensure service providers can treat the people who need care. Under the law, it ensures that any treatment given during pending credential applications is reimbursed to health care businesses. It also permits Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) to fill positions or cover absences with substitute health care providers.
School Employees Benefits Board coverage
This bill would mitigate the effects of school closures for hourly school employees in response to the virus outbreak. Under the new law, hourly employees may maintain health care eligibility provided by the School Employees Benefits Board during school closures.
Last week, Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal announced the statewide closure for six weeks of all public and private K-12 schools as well as higher and continuing education institutions. This bill allows for school employees to access benefits provided by the School Employees Benefits Board for the remainder of the school year if the employee would lose eligibility due to the closures; if they’re in quarantine or caring for a family member in quarantine; or if the employee’s relied-upon childcare is also closed.
The provisions of the bill take effect immediately.
Adjusting shared leave program requirements
This bill makes changes to the scope of the shared leave program for state workers and school district employees. For some individuals, coming into contact or being infected with COVID-19 may result in an extended period of time in quarantine, possibly keeping them from work.
Under the changes to the shared leave program, employees who are forced to isolate or quarantine because of infection or exposure due to COVID-19 may use shared leave.
Following the bill action, Inslee detailed two additional emergency proclamations he signed Monday night in response to recent COVID-19 outbreak developments:
Long-term care facilities
Inslee amended an earlier proclamation restricting access to long-term care facilities in the state.
The proclamation now bans all visitors to these facilities, excluding visitors to patients in end-of-life situations and visits by attorneys, administrative law judges, advocates or similar persons who represent a resident.
The proclamation also excludes vendors or volunteers who supply or work in a facility. However, anyone who enters these facilities must meet all other health guidance requirements previously set out by the state. The order is in effect until April 9.
Department of Licensing eye exams
Inslee also signed an emergency proclamation that temporarily suspends vision tests for driver license applicants through April 15. The equipment used for testing is frequently touched and shared by any number of members of the public, which could lead to further transmissions of the disease. Department of Licensing officials have said they do not currently have adequate supplies to clean the machines. These vision exams have a 99.6 percent pass rate, according to the Department of Licensing.
Additionally, starting March 23, more people will be able to renew their driver’s licenses or identification cards online. State officials are currently working to implement this expanded capacity for online renewals.