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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House budget panel approves changing law to allow medical school

OLYMPIA – The prospects for a new medical school operated by Washington State University took a step forward late Friday evening as a key committee approved a bill to make that possible.

Possible, but not mandatory, said some legislators.

On a 24-9 vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would change a law on the books since 1917 that says a state-sponsored medical school can only be operated by the University of Washington. But even some legislators who voted yes said it was, at best, only a partial solution to calls for more doctors in the state.

“Creating a new medical school, by itself, does not solve the need for physicians in Eastern Washington,” Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter said. Budget questions remain, he said.

Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, who heads the House Higher Education Committee, put the new medical school fourth on the list of priorities for getting more doctors in rural areas – behind expanding the number of graduate medical residencies in those areas, repaying loans of new doctors willing to practice there and expanding the multistate UW medical school program in Spokane.

Voting no was a mixture of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, including House Health Care and Wellness Committee Chairwoman Eileen Cody, D-Seattle.

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, called the bill a big step in finding a solution to the state’s shortage of physicians. Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, the bill’s prime sponsor, said after the vote that passage by the budget committee moved the prospects of a new WSU medical school operated a bit farther down a long road.

The committee’s action allows the proposal to go to the House, where it has 65 co-sponsors among the 98 members, for a possible vote later in the session. The Senate budget committee already has sent a version of the proposal to that chamber.

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