Senate Passes SB 6298, Mandatory Reporting and the Clergy Penitent Privilege 

Senate Bill 6298 (SB 6298), concerning the duty of the clergy to report child abuse or neglect, passed the Senate on Wednesday, February 7. The bill will now move to the House. SB 6298 makes all clergy of any faith mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect with the limited exception of information obtained in a penitential communication. The definition of penitential communication is narrowly designed to protect the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The WSCC is in support of most of this bill, which represents a compromise between the religious liberty rights of religions and the rights of survivors of abuse. Thus, the bill provides a strong exemption from reporting for any information obtained solely in the Sacrament of Confession. On the other hand, if a child is actively being abused, the bill adds a duty to warn authorities, even if the information comes “in part” from a penitential communication. 

While the duty to warn provision on its face could require breaking the Seal of Confession, we are neutral on this provision since, with our strong Safe Environment protocols and policies, clergy, lay employees and volunteers should all be reporting reasonable suspicions of abuse based on witnessed conduct long before a confession. 

In the rare circumstance when a priest has suspicions that are not reported until the abuse is confessed during the sacrament – or learns of it for the first time in confession – the priest has a duty to help penitent persons in their act of penance to seek atonement for past sins, to change their lives and to avoid future sins. Normally this would include removing themselves from any access to the child, seeking professional counseling and self-reporting to authorities. The priest could also encourage the penitent to visit with him or another mandatory reporter outside of the confessional.

No priest has authority to violate Canon Law by breaking the Seal of Confession, even in part. Similarly, we know of no priest who would allow known child abuse to persist and a known perpetrator to continue to jeopardize their immortal soul after that person has reached out for help in the Sacrament of Confession. 

The broader exemption for penitential communications in the bill is critical to protect the Sacrament of Confession from state intrusion. The duty to warn is such an intrusion but can be avoided by following Safe Environment policies and pastoral care of a penitent confessing to ongoing sinfulness. 

The alternative to this bill is no exemption, which would place the priest in violation of the law in all circumstances where there is a confession of past or present abuse. 

Bills Are Moving to the Next Chamber 

Legislators have been voting for bills on the floor, and all bills must pass out of their house of origin by Tuesday, February 13.  Now is the time to urge legislators to pass bills out of the Senate and House.  Additionally, committee hearings will resume on Ash Wednesday, February 14. Sign-in opportunities for those hearings are below.  Thank you for your advocacy!

ACTION ALERT: Sign In “Pro” for These Bills

The three bills below are scheduled for hearings next week. Use the links provided to sign in electronically.  When signing in we encourage you to write “parishioner of --- Church” or “Catholic constituent” in the “organization” box.

Sign In “Pro” to Improve Maternal Health Outcomes

Sign in “pro” for Senate Bill 5580 (SB 5580), which would improve maternal health outcomes.  Please sign in prior to 12:30 on Wednesday, February 14.  SB 5580 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness one hour later.  The U.S. morbidity rate for women who are pregnant or giving birth is the highest amongst developed nations.  SB 5580 would increase eligibility to 210% of the federal poverty level requirement for health care (Apple Health) for pregnant and postpartum individuals.  SB 5580 would also direct the Health Care Authority (HCA) to create a post-delivery and transitional care program for people with substance use disorder at the time of delivery to allow for extended post-delivery hospital care.  Additionally, the Maternity Support Services (MSS) program would be updated to address perinatal outcomes and increase equity and healthier birth outcomes.  In line with the bishops’ health care, respect life, and children/families legislative priorities, the WSCC supports SB 5580.

Sign In “Pro” for the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact

Sign in “pro” for Senate Bill 5180 (SB 5180), the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact.  Please sign in prior to 9:30 on Wednesday, February 14. SB 5580 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Education one hour later.  SB 5180 would support teachers from other states in pathways to licensure in Washington. The bill would also help eligible military spouses in becoming licensed in our state.  SB 5180 could be advantageous for teachers seeking employment in Catholic schools.  In line with the bishops’ Catholic schools and education legislative priority, the WSCC supports SB 5180.

Sign In “Pro” for Tribal Representation on the Conservation Commission

Sign in “pro” for Senate Bill 5921 (SB 5921), which would require one member of the State Conservation Commission to be an appointed member or representative from a federally recognized tribe.  While this is currently the general practice, SB 5921 would make this practice a legal requirement.  The Conservation Commission is a state agency created to assist and guide conservation districts in preparing and implementing resource conservation programs.  Please sign in by 7 am on Wednesday, February 14.  SB 5921 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources one hour later. In line with the bishops’ racial justice and care for creation legislative priorities, the WSCC supports SB 5921.

Respecting Life: Urge Your Representatives to Oppose These Bills

Oppose Changes to Abortion Prescription Labels 

Urge your representatives to oppose House Bill 2115 (HB 2115), which would allow a health care provider who has prescribed an abortion medication to request that their name not be printed on the prescription label.  Identify your district and representatives and find a link to send them a message hereIn lieu of abortion providers’ names, a physician’s identification number or a health care facility name may be used on prescription labels.  Proponents of the bill argue that omitting a provider name will decrease harassment or intimidation.  The WSCC does not condone harassment nor violence against abortion providers.  At the same time, women may experience adverse effects following an abortion, and it is important that provider information be easily accessible in the event of an emergency.  The health of women seeking abortions should be prioritized.  Additionally, federal law requires that physician’s names be provided on prescription labels.  Respecting life and the dignity of every human person is a legislative priority, and the WSCC opposes HB 2115 and its companion bill, SB 5960.

Urge Your Representative to Respect Life and Oppose HB 1151

Send a message to your state representatives and urge them to vote against House Bill 1151 (HB 1151), which would promote the mishandling of human embryos.  Identify your district and representatives and find a link to send them a message here.  The House may vote on this bill soon. HB 1151 would mandate health coverage of fertility services.  The WSCC specifically opposes the promotion of in vitro fertilization (IVF), which creates human embryos that are not properly cared for.  Our Catholic faith teaches us to respect all life and that life begins at conception.  However, IVF often results in unused embryos that are frozen indefinitely, destroyed, or abandoned.  Life is not properly cared for nor respected.  Additionally, IVF can treat children as commodities that are manufactured outside of the construct of the expression of love of a married couple.  A more thorough explanation of the complexity of the Church’s opposition to IVF may be found here.  In line with the legislative priority to respect life, the WSCC opposes HB 1151 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 5204.

Ask Your Senator to Revise Application of the “Three Strikes” Law to Juveniles 

Urge your state senator to pass Senate Bill 6063 (SB 6063), which would revise how the “three strikes,” or persistent offender, law is applied to those who committed crimes while under the age of 18.  SB 6063 must pass out of the Senate by Tuesday, February 13.  Identify your district and state senator and find a link to send them a message here.  The “three strikes” law requires courts to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release when a person is deemed to be a persistent offender.  Currently, crimes committed when one is under 18 may be applied to the definition of a persistent offender.  SB 6063 would modify the definition of persistent offender to exclude crimes committed when one is under 18 years old.  In line with the bishops’ restorative justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports SB 6063.

Urge Your Representatives to Pass These House Bills 

Send your representatives a message, and urge them to pass the following bills, which must pass out of the House by Tuesday, February 13: HB 1368, HB 1879, HB 1889, HB 1929, HB 2019, HB 2099, HB 2114, and HB 2270.  Identify your district and representatives and find a link to send them a message here.  Descriptions of the bills are below.

HB 1368: Clean School Buses 

House Bill 1368 (HB 1368) would require and fund the purchase of zero emission school buses.  Under the second substitute bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee, the Department of Ecology would administer a zero-emission school bus grant program and prioritize grants to overburdened communities and school districts with buses manufactured prior to 2007.  The current version of the bill would also require 75 percent of school buses used in student transportation contracts to be zero emission by September 1, 2030.  With a statewide fleet of 10,000 buses, moving toward electric school buses would reduce pollution and adverse health effects resulting from diesel buses.  In line with the bishops’ legislative priority to care for God’s creation, the WSCC supports HB 1368.

HB 1879: Naming Tribal Curriculum After Rep. John McCoy

House Bill 1879 (HB 1879) would name the curriculum used to teach public school students about tribal history, culture, and government as the John McCoy (lulilaš) Since Time Immemorial (STI) curriculum.  Representative John McCoy, whose traditional name in Lushootseed is lulilaš, sponsored House Bill 1495 in 2005, which began the process of incorporating information about tribal history, culture, and government into social studies courses in which Washington or United States history is taught.  In line with the bishops’ racial justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 1879. 

HB 1889: Professional Licenses and Certifications for Immigrants 

House Bill 1889 (HB 1889) would allow individuals to receive certain professional licenses, certifications, permits, and registrations for various professions, regardless of immigration or citizenship status.  This past fall, the WSCC issued this statement on immigration.  In accordance with the bishops’ legislative priority to support immigrants, the WSCC supports HB 1889.

HB 1929: Support for Youth Exiting Behavioral Health Care 

House Bill 1929 (HB 1929) would provide support for youth exiting inpatient behavioral health care.  Young adults completing inpatient behavioral health care treatment are the largest group of people who become homeless within three to 12 months after exiting publicly funded care.  The moment of exiting inpatient behavioral health care is a key point in time to end a youth’s experience with homelessness.  To assist youth during this important time, HB 1929 would create a post inpatient housing program for young adults to provide supportive transitional housing with behavioral health support.  This program would also focus on securing long-term housing for the group of young adults exiting inpatient behavioral health treatment.  HB 1929 is in line with the bishops’ legislative priorities of caring for children and families, combating homelessness, and providing health care for all.  The WSCC supports HB 1929 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 6050 (SB 6050). 

HB 2019: Native American Apprentice Assistance Program

House Bill 2019 (HB 2019) would establish a Native American apprentice assistant program.  HB 2019 cites the challenges Native Americans in our state face in attaining post-secondary education.  For example, in some cases there is a lack of access to programs near reservations.  In other instances, stigma against certain educational opportunities has developed as the result of experiences at historical boarding schools that separated Native American families.  Recognizing obstacles faced in the past, HB 2019 would create a Native American apprentice assistant program to create opportunities for indigenous people and advance workforce development.  HB 2019 is in line with the bishops’ legislative priorities to respect the life and dignity of all and to seek racial and economic justice.  The WSCC supports HB 2019. 

HB 2099: Identification Cards for Persons in State Custody or Care

House Bill 2099 (HB 2099) would require the Department of Corrections, all state hospitals, secure community transition facilities, and residential treatment facilities to ensure that individuals in custody or care of these agencies possess state identification issued by the Department of Licensing prior to release or discharge.  Proper identification will assist those who completed sentences or care to access housing, social services, and bank accounts and to reintegrate into society.  Successful re-entry is key to reducing recidivism.  In line with the bishops’ restorative justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 2099. 

HB 2114: Improving Housing Stability for Tenants   

House Bill 2114 (HB 2114) would improve housing stability for tenants.  Provisions include limiting rent and fee increases, requiring notice of rent and fee increases, limiting fees and deposits, establishing a landlord resource center, authorizing tenant lease termination, creating parity between lease types, and providing for attorney general enforcement.  Amid a housing affordability crisis in Washington state, this bill is in line with the bishops’ affordable housing legislative priority, and the WSCC supports HB 2114. 

HB 2270: Creates a State Department of Housing 

House Bill 2270 (HB 2270) would create a department of housing in Washington.  Amid a housing crisis in our state, a new housing department would focus solely on housing and homelessness issues and bring together state programs that currently span multiple agencies and partners.  Last month the bishops released this statement, calling on the faithful and legislators to care for vulnerable populations impacted by homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.  The WSCC supports HB 2270. 

Give to PREPARES in Washington 

PREPARES – Pregnancy & Parenting Support – is our promise to care for mothers, fathers and their families from pregnancy to the child’s fifth birthday – no matter their beliefs. This program is a way we can “walk our talk” about celebrating the gift of life and making sure that no child – born or unborn – is ever abandoned or alone. 

As of 2023, PREPARES statewide has been embraced by 188 parishes; 742 parish Volunteers and Companions, trained by local Catholic Charities staff, have participated in supporting 14,120 vulnerable moms, dads, and children with one-on-one family companionship and infant and child essentials. 

Join our annual appeal. Your financial support enables us to continue the work of PREPARES in the state of Washington. Thank you for giving generously.

End of Life Guide 

The WSCC publishes the “Catholic Guide to Making Good Decisions for End of Life: Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney,” a resource to assist in making choices about health care and in communicating your decisions to others.  Our Catholic faith encourages prayerful reflection on death and preparation for it.  A Spanish translation is available.

Below are various resources of use during the legislative session: 

Important Dates

February 13 Last day to pass bills out of house of origin 
February 14 Ash Wednesday, Lent begins
February 21 Last day to pass bills out of committee from opposite house. Exceptions: House fiscal committees and Senate Ways and Means and Transportation committees
March 1 Last day to pass bills out of opposite house.  Exceptions: initiatives and alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets, differences between the houses, and matters incident to the interim and closing of the session
March 7 Final day of the legislative session
March 24 Palm Sunday, Holy Week Begins
March 28Holy Thursday
March 29 Good Friday
March 31 Easter

WSCC Staff

We invite you to contact us at any time.

Jean Welch Hill, Executive Director

Adrienne Corpuz Joyce, Director of Policy & Communications

Tracey Wilson Yackley, Operations Manager

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