On Feb. 8, Public Health employees from across Washington state – including many PROTEC17 members – gathered online for Public Health Legislative Education Day, held via Zoom for the second year in a row.

Legislative Education Day is typically a day where Washington’s Public Health professionals meet in-person with their local representatives to educate them about the important work they do every day to keep our state safe and healthy. While some virtual meetings were arranged between participants and their representatives after the main morning session, the online format brings the opportunity for professionals to learn about the issues both locally and at the national level from special guest speakers, and how sharing their work experiences can help inform policy and funding decisions. 

Participants were welcomed by Jeff Ketchel and Adrian Dominguez of the Washington State Public Health Association (WSPHA), which organized the event. The agenda was packed with Public Health experts including Kristin Peterson, the Deputy Secretary for Policy, Planning and Evaluation for the Washington State Department of Health, as well as various policy advocates on water flouridation, vaping regulation, cannibis revenue appropriation, and Black health in Washington state.  

Of note, Health Policy Director Nick Bath and Health Policy Advocate Sabah Ghulamali spoke at length on the efforts of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), of which U.S. Senator Parry Murray (D-WA) is Chair. Murray and the HELP Committee are working on the ‘Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, and Emerging New Threats (PREVENT) Pandemics Act’, which would strengthen funding and rules surrounding pandemic preparedness at the Federal and State levels. While Public Health has responded as skillfully as possible to the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons learned over the last two years will help shape new policy that will allow for a stronger response should another global viral event happen in the future.

Another important presentation by the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom focused on community-led health solutions, highlighting their efforts in Black and Indigenous communities in Washington State.  

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. Also, as it is not a biennium budgetary year in Washington state, WSPHA and other health advocacy organizations are focused mainly on policy changes in 2022 that will create positive changes in our communities. 

The bills that were highlighted at Legislative Education Day are: HB1684/SB5587 concerning the floridation of drinking water for improved oral health; bills related to vaping regulation including SB5129 targeting youth tobacco enforcement, HB1676 reforming the vapor tax, and SB5768 on vapor flavor regulation; and cannabis legislation that would regulate Delta-8 THC and industrial hemp products, and restructure cannabis revenue appropriations for Public Health related programs.  

We will be tracking the status of Public Health bills and will post updates on our Political Action webpage: protec17.org/political-action. There, you can also learn about our 2022 legislative priorities and how to contact your Senators and Representatives.  Whether you are a Public Health employee or not, you can show your support for both Foundational and pandemic-related Public Health causes by reaching out to your state and local representatives.