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Inside Olympia – Foundational Public Health and Capitol Journalists

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March 11, 2021

Senators June Robinson and Ann Rivers describe foundational public health as government services that are vitally important, but happen “behind the scenes” — and thus in the past have had a hard time winning legislative attention and funding.

For years local health departments have provided services like inspecting restaurants for food safety and dealing with failing home septic systems. But another service they provide is dealing with disease outbreaks — and advocates hope the COVID pandemic will provide the impetus for more funding.

Many legislative Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to strengthen foundational public health, but differ on how to fund it. Democrats have proposed new taxes on health insurance plans and sweetened drinks, while Republicans say those services can be paid for with existing revenues.

Meanwhile, the 2021 Legislature has passed its halfway point. Democrats control both House and Senate, and one or the other of those chambers has so far approved state-level COVID relief, a new tax on capital gains, about a dozen significant bills aimed at police accountability, major environmental bills, a working families tax credit, and bills dealing broadly with societal equity.

Meanwhile, minority Republicans, frustrated by many of Gov. Jay Inslee’s decisions during the COVID pandemic, want legislation to rein in the governor’s emergency powers. Plus, they believe the state can balance its budget and provide necessary state services without new taxes.

What does the rest of the 2021 legislative session hold for Washington’s? We check in with State Capitol journalists Joseph O’Sullivan, who writes for The Seattle Times, and Sara Gentzler, who writes for papers in Olympia, Tacoma, Bellingham and the Tri-Cities.