OLYMPIA – A proposal described by its sponsor as “a warm hug” from the state for new babies in Washington might meet some resistance from immigrants who were hugged too strongly, and not so warmly, from their previous governments in the Soviet Union.
A proposed Welcome to Washington Baby program would provide a new family with a basket of small gifts and supplies, including a book to track the baby’s progress. The family would get a visit from a state worker who could give the family information about local and state services and arrange for follow-ups with a visiting nurse, if one was wanted.
Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee chairwoman, said the concept was similar to the Welcome Wagon greeting for new families in a community.
“This is a warm hug from the state of Washington,” Wellman said during a hearing Tuesday.
But some Republicans on the committee aren’t sure every family in the state would find it so welcoming.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said some of his constituents left Russia and Ukraine to get away from an authoritarian government.
“The whole idea of tracking children by the government is scaring people in my district,” Padden said.
“This is a baby book,” said Wellman, to record things like first step or first word. “It doesn’t require you give it to anyone. We give it to you.”
But there are concerns by some people that anything on an official government form can be taken back by the government, Padden said.
“If the state decides to come into our homes and take information … I think we would all oppose that,” Wellman said.
Padden had several amendments to revise the proposal, including one that would have allowed families to see any information the program collects. But Wellman said any information would be disaggregated – separated into basic data – and not identifiable by individuals.
“It’s difficult to see how we would provide that in a cost-effective manner,” Wellman said.
Under the bill, the Department of Children, Youth and Family Services would be required to develop a universal program by 2027 that would be required to be available to all families with newborns. An amendment from Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, would have allowed families to opt into the program, and informing them about it would be optional as well.
Wellman said she agrees families should be able to opt in or out, but if informing them about it was also optional, some families might not opt in because they wouldn’t know about it. The bill was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, where it will await a cost estimate.
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