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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee updates hate crime law, expands powers of physician assistants, boosts money paid to those leaving prison, recognizes Lunar New Year

Gov. Jay Inslee is joined by Trisha Newport, left, and Susie Leavell from the Department of Corrections to sign a bill Wednesday expanding financial support for people released from correctional facilities.  (Lauren Rendahl / The Spokesman-Review)
By Lauren Rendahl and Ellen Dennis The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – During the past two months, state legislators in Olympia passed a stack of 359 bills that Gov. Jay Inslee has been working through signing into law this week.

Lawmakers showed up in Olympia for Washington’s 2024 legislative session with a lofty set of goals in the midst of a statewide housing shortage, opioid epidemic, warming climate and cost-of-living crisis.

Elected officials ended up killing two of the year’s most high-profile bills (one would have established a rent increase cap and the other would have increased regulations on hospital mergers in the state). Hundreds of other bills, however, still made the cut in the eyes of lawmakers this year.

Here’s a look at a few bills Inslee signed into Washington law on Wednesday:

House Bill 2041: A law to expand the ability of physician assistants to practice with autonomy.

In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many health care systems in the state and around the world set up what are called collaborative agreements – ways for experienced physician assistants to serve patients under the supervision of a physician.

Local state reps. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane; Joe Schmick, R-Colfax; and Suzanne Schmidt, R-Spokane Valley, sponsored the bill to make collaborative agreements a permanent part of Washington’s health care systems.

“There continues to be a great need for additional providers in primary care and specialty areas, especially in medically underserved and rural communities,” the bill’s text reads. “Therefore, the Legislature intends to authorize physician assistants to enter into collaborative practice with physicians to provide team-based care and enhance access to health care for the people of the state.”

The new law recognizes the increasing education and contributions of physician assistants, said Linda Dale, president of the Washington Academy of Physician Assistants. The law will also remove other barriers to physician assistants’ employment in the state, she said, and ensure Washington is attracting and retaining a skilled health care workforce.

Now signed by the governor, the law will partially take effect on Jan. 1, 2025. It will take full effect on July 1, 2026.

Senate Bill 5893: A law requiring anyone released from the Washington state corrections system to be eligible for financial support when leaving prison.

Building upon a 2023 law that increased the amount of money people receive when released or discharged from a correctional facility, this year’s legislation expands who is eligible for monetary support.

That law required the Department of Corrections to provide people released from prison or a re-entry center into the community with no less than $40 of “gate money” and public transportation costing under $100. DOC must also provide them with presentable clothing.

The 2023-2025 operating budget allocated over $3.6 million to increase gate money from $40 to $300.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill extending the stipend to all people released from DOC custody, including those transitioning to the community under supervision and those transferring to partial confinement as part of graduated re entry, community parenting or work release programs.

“Applying it to a broader range of circumstances will mean more successful reentries and healthier communities, but on a much larger scale,” prime sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, said in a news release.

Inslee said the bill is “one small step” toward encouraging people to avoid reoffending and successfully transition into society after leaving DOC custody. The bill will go into effect starting in early June.

House Bill 2209: Lunar New Year will soon become Washington state’s newest holiday.

Joined by members from the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, Inslee signed into law a bill officially recognizing Lunar New Year as a legislative holiday on Wednesday.

The bill also advises local governments, schools and cultural organizations to celebrate the holiday, and requires the state commission on Asian American Pacific Affairs to create programming and resources that local entities can use for their celebrations.

Prime sponsor of the bill Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, immigrated to Washington as a Vietnamese refugee and said celebrating Lunar New Year is about supporting future generations of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Riccelli co-sponsored the bill.

“Our youth who struggle with their mental well-being as they navigate the perpetual foreigner perceptions and expectations, get to see themselves in cultural acceptances and celebrations,” she said on Jan. 31.

Last year, Thai pushed to make Lunar New Year a paid state holiday, which would have given state employees and public schools the day off, though it didn’t pass because of the high costs associated with the bill.

2025 marks the first year the holiday will be annually recognized under state law.

Senate Bill 5917: A law to extend the ability of prosecutors to charge hate crimes for vandalism of public property.

Sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, this law to add vandalism of public property into the current legal definition of a hate crime was spurred by repeated vandalism that targeted Spokane’s LGBTQ community last year.

After rainbow sidewalks in Spokane were repainted, a group of 100 people showed up at the Odyssey Youth Movement, a LGBTQ+ hub in the city, to show their support.

Now, if somebody damages or vandalizes public property in Washington, they could be charged with a hate crime.

“Our state has passed important laws to protect people targeted for what they look like, who they love or how they pray,” Billig said. “This legislation strengthens our hate crime laws by adding our shared public spaces and symbols of inclusion.”

Under the law, destruction of public property motivated by bias would be covered under the state’s hate crimes statute. To be found guilty of a hate crime, a person must act “maliciously and intentionally” to target a person or group based on their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.