OLYMPIA – Groups like the Union Gospel Mission could go back to dispensing donated eyeglasses to the poor this summer if legislation to protect charities with such programs comes into a little sharper focus in the Legislature.
The House and Senate both passed separate bills Thursday that protect charities by giving them immunity from lawsuits when they distribute free eye glasses after the recipient is examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
The Union Gospel Mission had such a program...
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...which has given out thousands of eyeglasses since 1985. That all came to a halt last year, based on the Washington Board of Optometry’s interpretation of a federal law regarding the need for prescriptions for glasses, even if they are being given away.
The Senate bill’s sponsor, Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden, said the Mission has more than 10,000 pairs of glasses in storage, waiting to be given to people who need but can’t afford them. Glasses are no longer being covered under Medicaid, so the need will only grow, he said.
“This bill does good and does not cost the state anything,” Padden said.
The Senate passed its bill 46-0, and a similar House bill passed 97-0 earlier in the day. But the House bill also extends the protection for hearing aids, which are not mentioned in the Senate version. Padden said he’ll talk with House sponsors and work out whether to do a separate bill for hearing aids, or have the Senate vote on the House version.
Any version that passes both chambers and gets the governor’s signature would take effect in June.