On March 4, Public Health employees from across Washington state – including many PROTEC17 members – gathered online for the first virtual Public Health Legislative Education Day. While the annual event has been taking place in Olympia for many years, the pandemic changed the format – to much success!
Legislative Education Day is typically a day where Public Health professionals meet with their representatives to educate them about the important work they do every day to keep us safe and healthy. Due to the online format, this year’s event was a bit different, though still highly valuable to both workers and legislators alike.
Participants were welcomed by Jeff Ketchel of the Washington state Public Health Association (WSPHA), which organized the event. They were then introduced to many Senators and Representatives from throughout Washington State who shared the status of specific Public Health-related policy and budgetary bills. And finally, participants learned how best to contact their legislators to talk about important Public Health issues, as well as make public comment on a bill, or provide virtual testimony in a bill’s hearing – two tools that are new, and wildly popular this year, given the need to maintain social distancing.
With the coronavirus on everyone’s minds, awareness about Public Health has increased, and with it, the sense of urgency for adequate funding. For years, Public Health funding has fallen short of what is needed for foundational health services, as well as programs to tackle homelessness, the opioid crisis, infectious diseases, and more.
While Public Health Legislative Education Day is not a day for public health professionals to directly ask for funding, it is an important opportunity to teach them how to give legislators a sense and scope of the most important issues and how budgetary constraints and limitations impact the health and safety of our communities.
There are several bills being heard this year that would greatly impact Public Health, including two budgetary bills. At this point, it appears that some better funding streams are on the horizon, although both packages currently fall short of meeting the true need.
The legislative term is slated to end on April 25, but it will likely be extended. We will be tracking the status of Public Health bills and funding and will post updates on our Political Action webpage: protec17.org/political-action. There, you can also learn about our legislative priorities and how to contact your Senators and Representatives.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that PROTEC17 Public Health members provide essential services that are integral to the health and safety of everyone in Washington state. Whether you are a Public Health employee or not, let your legislator know that you support Public Health and that it’s time to adequately fund these vital programs and services.