Category Archives: Olympia

Following SB 5454, requiring HIV-testing in infants

Brynn writes:

In January I wrote about Mary Jones, the Central Kitsap woman who has cared for some of the state’s most medically fragile babies while they were placed in state custody. (Read that story here).

Jones started fostering 31 years ago, but in December she terminated her foster care license with the state because she’d finally had enough with the state’s Department of Social and Health Services.

It takes a lot to get Jones that upset — this is a woman who has the patience of a saint — but after an infant in her care was not tested for HIV, even though the child’s mother gave permission, Jones had had enough. She was told by DSHS officials that a court order was needed to test the child, but it took close to six months for that order to be issued. Testing the infant as soon as possible would have been in the baby’s best interest, because if the infant tested positive it would have been given necessary antiviral medication to potentially keep the disease away.

It wasn’t until Jones terminated her license and the baby was moved to a different foster family that Jones received a call from the baby’s caseworker saying the court order had been issued. But even then if the infant tested positive for HIV, the state wouldn’t tell Jones the results because she longer was caring for the child — even though she’d cared for the baby for three months, potentially exposing herself to the disease.

This isn’t the first time Jones has run up against DSHS about its lack of policy on whether to test infants at birth for HIV. She has tried since 2004 to get legislation passed that would test infants for HIV if the status of the mother is unknown, and if the mother is at high risk for the disease (i.e. an intravenous drug user). Many pregnant women whose children enter state custody after birth receive prenatal care, so the percentage of women whose HIV status is unknown at the time of delivery is low. But it’s the babies born to women who are intravenous drug users, or who don’t receive any medical attention during pregnancy, and who don’t know if they’re HIV positive, that the bill aims to reach.

Working with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Jones hopes to see legislation passed this year that would update state law to require the test in infants whose status is unknown.

The bill, SB 5454, made it out of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee and after a detour through the Senate Ways and Means committee (an inaccurate fiscal note was attached to the bill, which is how it ended up there) the bill is now waiting on the rules committee to be brought to the floor for a vote.

This is the first time this legislation has made it out of committee. Rolfes is optimistic the bill will pass once on the floor, but she’s also pragmatic and knows it faces an uphill battle.

“The challenge is right now we have hundreds of bills waiting to get to the floor for a vote,” Rolfes said Wednesday. “We have another week or so to get the bills out and the Senate moves very slowly. Whether I can get it to the floor is the big ‘if.’”

Jones has been holding her breath, waiting to see if the bill finally passes. Seeing this legislation approved might help heal Jones’ wounds — the 63-year-old planned to retire this spring when her license ran out; terminating her license early was an act of desperation. While she knows she did the right thing, there’s still a part of her that is upset she didn’t get to retire the way she wanted.

Even though she’s no longer caring for the medically fragile babies, she’s still fighting for them in Olympia.

“When I go down there to testify I am always just focused on who I am there for, which is always my babies,” she said earlier this month.

If the bill doesn’t make it to the floor this session, Rolfes isn’t discouraged, in fact she’s optimistic that it will be even easier to get it passed during the next session.

“A lot times when the bills get this far you can get them out the next year,” she said. “Where we are right now is strategically a good spot. We’ll know in another couple of weeks if it’s still alive. It’s certainly my priority.”

Here’s some excerpts from SB 5454, which updates RCW 13.34.315:

When an infant under one year of age is placed in out-of-home care under this chapter, the department or other supervising agency shall request that the infant’s treating physician test the infant for human immunodeficiency virus, if the human immunodeficiency virus status of the mother of the infant:

(i) Is known to be positive; or

(ii) Is unknown and the department has specific information indicating that the mother is at increased risk of human immunodeficiency virus infection, including, but not limited to, a history of drug abuse.

The bill goes on to indicate the supervising agency must then follow a treating physician’s recommendation for follow-up testing and care for infants that test positive. It also says the child’s parent must be asked for consent. If they object for any reason, including conflicts with religious beliefs, a court order is required to perform the test.

Click here to see the TVW footage of the Feb. 12 Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee hearing on SB 5454.

Click here for a history of SB 5454, which includes links to a pdf of the original bill.

State shows economy on the red side of ‘flat’

Mike Baker’s Associated Press story today on the state’s economic forecast emphasizes the most salient point, something that could be lost in the press releases.

“Washington state government can expect to bring in $16.1 million less than projected in the current budget cycle because of a lackluster economic recovery, forecasters said Wednesday” is what Baker wrote in the AP story Wednesday.

That might be confusing to some who read the state’s Office of Financial Management press release that carries the headline “Washington quarterly revenue projection for 2011–13 increases $156 million.”

Both are correct, but context is important. State revenues are up $172 million for the two-year budget because of “policy changes and fund shifts,” wrote Brad Shannon at the Olympian. Subtract $16 million from revenues lost by the overall economy and you get that $156 million increase.

In relative terms the $16 million is more or less flat, according to House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, a Medina Democrat. Compared to the forecast a year ago when revenues were projected to be down $780 million from earlier predictions, that’s true. The celebrations over the most recent numbers, however, are tepid at best and fraught with warnings about events that could make the numbers a lot worse.

OFM’s press release follows, as does the governor’s official statement and those from Republican budget leadership. If Democratic leadership from the Legislature issues any statements I’ll add them.
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‘Swift and certain’ parole program passes Senate

In March we had a story about the state Department of Corrections program that would be part of a number of changes affecting Kitsap County jail. The program passed the state Senate today. I’ll post the Senate Democrats press release after this little comment.

Kitsap Sun commenters caught the quote from Chad Lewis, state Department of Corrections spokesman, who said Corrections considered the program because it would cost less to implement how it handles parole violators now. What commenters apparently missed was the second part.

Lewis said the new, less expensive, program works better.

Hence the reference to the Pew Center on the States study that reported the same program in Hawaii meant violators were “less likely to be arrested for a new crime, to use drugs and to have their probation revoked.”

Because commenters missed or ignored that part of the story, the ongoing argument was over taxes, budgets and liberal and conservative spending values. That argument was not completely inappropriate, because the state did go into this looking for cost savings, which means the corrections budget is being cut. And it does translate to bad news for the county, because there is less money for the budget.

Still, did the point “It costs less and works better” pass by everyone? Did I write the story that badly? Be honest.

In some ways I thought this was a good news story, though clearly it’s tough for the county jail to be counting on less money. The positive, though, was in someone’s ability to take advantage of a crisis, to find a solution perhaps no one would have sought had there not been a problem.

Apparently the state Senate thought it was a good idea. The bill allowing for the program passed 43-2.

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Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Jay Manning on Tucson Shootings

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Jay Manning, Kitsap-grown, spoke to the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

Manning didn’t try to sugar coat the upcoming round of budget cuts, but he ended by predicting Washington State is positioned to pull out of the recession faster than most states.

Manning also mentioned a topic that must weigh heavily on the minds of public officials at all levels of government, the shootings in Tucson and incendiary packages in Maryland.

Manning said the atmosphere in Olympia “is really intense right now, and it’s really scary to be in government and to think there’s that level of anger out there.”

Manning said being in government is seen as a disgrace, yet government workers perform essential functions, child protective services for example. The biggest shame, Manning said, is if government became the last place people would go to get a job.

“There’s not a lot of hope or optimism about government right now,” Manning said.

He’s all for free speech, but, “Let’s ease back on the rhetoric a little bit,” he urged. “It should be about issues and ideas.”

Question: If you have ever thought about running for public office, have recent events of violence against politicians discouraged you? (take the poll on the Kitsap Caucus home page).