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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU medical school gets House approval

OLYMPIA – Washington State University would be able to start its own medical school in Spokane under a bill that passed the House late Monday.

On an 81-17 vote, the House approved legislation that gives WSU the permission, but not the money, to open a medical school on the Riverpoint Campus. Decisions on how much to spend, and when, will be made later. The Senate has its own version pending.

The bill would repeal a law that dates to 1917, when the Legislature divided up major lines of study for the two major universities and said only the University of Washington could have a medical school. That law is archaic, said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.

“In 1917, I think they were using leeches to cure folks,” said Riccelli, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We have a growing need (for doctors) in our state that we are not meeting.”

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said the bill generated a conversation about what health care and medical education should be like in the 21st and 22nd centuries, and will touch every corner of the state.

“It should not be an either-or conversation” that pits the two universities and their supporters against each other on medical schools, Parker said. 

Supporters of the bill fought back an effort by Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, to delay a decision for a year while the need for more physicians and other medical professionals, and the best ways to fill it, is studied before starting down a road that could have a $40 million annual appropriation at the end of it.

“We already know what the study’s going to tell us,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. A new medical school may be below expanded medical residencies, programs to repay school loans and expanding the University of Washington’s medical school, he added, but “all of those priorities we will deal with in the budget.”

The House also rejected an amendment from Pollet that would have required WSU to repay all money that it had been given for its part in the multistate training program for medical students it operated in conjunction with UW until last year. That program is known as WWAMI, for the states involved: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“Let WWAMI be WWAMI” Pollet said. “Let WSU ask for new money if it’s going to start a new medical school.”

That’s also an issue to be worked out in the budget, Hansen argued before that amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

One bit of caution for supporters of the bill was the list of legislators who voted no on the proposal along with Pollet: House Speaker Frank Chopp, Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, Finance Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, Capital Budget Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee and Health Care Chairwoman Eileen Cody.

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