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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU med school bills advance

OLYMPIA – Washington State University is two steps closer to starting its own medical school in Spokane.

Legislative committees in each chamber agreed overwhelmingly Tuesday that a state law restricting medical education to the University of Washington should be changed. But both indicated tough decisions lie ahead on paying for a new school. The bills would give WSU the authority to offer medical education at the Spokane campus but don’t set aside money to do it.

The Senate Higher Education Committee unanimously sent the medical school authorization bill to the full Senate after rejecting on a party-line vote an amendment that tried to sort out a funding dispute between the two universities over the WWAMI medical school training they shared in Spokane until last fall.

Funding questions will be decided later by the budget writers, Republicans said.

“Ways and Means is the proper venue for those discussions to be held,” Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said. “I do believe it will be worked out.”

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, likened the two-step process to the breakup of a marriage: “One is the divorce, and one is the settlement.”

On a 12-1 vote, the House Higher Education Committee sent a similar bill to the full House after rejecting an amendment that would have delayed that decision for one year to study medical training needs. Another amendment that would have required WSU to prove it would teach students standard practices on reproductive health and end-of-life issues was withdrawn.

Rep. Gerry Pollett, D-Seattle, called for the one-year study of the best way to meet the state’s growing need for more doctors and other health care professionals. Some experts say the state needs more residency programs, which medical students take after completing four years of medical school, rather than more medical school slots; others say the state needs both.

“It is sensible to say let’s study and report back,” Pollett said.

But Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, disagreed: “We don’t need a study to determine care in Eastern Washington is at a critical state.” States with smaller populations have more medical schools than Washington, he said, and “this is just the beginning.”

Pollett’s amendment for a study failed on a voice vote, and he withdrew a second amendment that would have required any state university’s medical students be trained in “medically based, accurate and appropriate information” regardless of the policies of its partners. The amendment was aimed at making sure policies at potential partners like Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center don’t keep students from learning medical practices connected to reproductive health, abortion and end-of-life treatments. Pollett said he had been assured by WSU officials, through the bill’s sponsor Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, that such training would be offered.

Riccelli said he was pleased with the outcome, and said the revisions approved by the committees don’t hurt WSU’s chances of starting a medical school.

“Our intention was to get rid of the (restrictions) first,” he said, then discuss how much money the state should set aside for each university’s medical programs.

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