Sunday, April 23 marks the end of the 2023 Legislative session. A number of WSCC-supported bills have been passed by the Legislature and are making their way to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee to be signed into law. At the same time, your advocacy is still needed for some bills, including SB 5280, which should protect children, the clergy-penitent privilege, and the sacrament of reconciliation. A new Action Alert for this bill is below. Thank you for your advocacy!
Thank you for using our previous Action Alert to contact your representatives aboutSenate Bill 5280 (SB 5280). Your help is now needed to urge your state senator to protect the clergy-penitent privilege and the seal of the confession. On April 12 the House voted to pass SB 5280 with an amendment compelling priests to be mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, even if the information was obtained solely during the sacrament of reconciliation. The bill is now back in the Senate, and your senator will soon vote on whether or not to protect the clergy-penitent privilege in the bill. Caring for children and vulnerable populations is a priority of the Catholic Church. In response to the abuse crisis, the Catholic Church has engaged in reform, implemented new policies, and is dedicated to accountability and caring for those who have been harmed. SB 5280 would require clergy to be mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect. Catholic priests are already mandatory reporters in our Church. The WSCC supports this aspect of the bill with one exception – when information is obtained solely during the sacrament of reconciliation. The seal of the confessional is sacred, and it is a violation of canon law for a priest to reveal what has been confessed during the sacrament of reconciliation. Revealing information confessed during reconciliation results in excommunication, whereby a priest would be forbidden to celebrate or receive sacraments. To learn more about SB 5280, the Church’s work to prevent abuse and restore victims, the bishops’ support of mandatory reporting outside the confessional, and the sacrament of reconciliation, please see our Action Alert. Archbishop Paul Etienne wrote about this bill in his blog, and Bishop Frank Schuster created this video to request your help. A closed caption option to view Spanish subtitles is available.
Last Friday a court in Texas invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone, an abortion drug. The decision is being appealed. On the same day, in a separate case filed by Washington state and 16 other states, a court ruling blocked the FDA from altering the availability of mifepristone in the states filing the case. In response to court cases involving mifepristone, last week Governor Jay Inslee announced a plan to purchase a three-year supply of mifepristone and authorize the Department of Corrections to administer the stockpile of the abortion medication. Senate Bill 5768 (SB 5768), would create this authorization and allow the department to acquire, receive, possess, sell, resell, deliver, dispense, distribute, and engage in any activity constituting the practice of pharmacy or wholesale distribution of abortion medication. SB 5768 is likely to be voted on by the Senate soon. Contact your state senator and urge him or her to vote against SB 5768. Identify your district and senator and obtain contact info here. Pictured above, on April 10 WSCC executive director, Mario Villanueva, testified against this bill in a hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. In line with the bishops’ legislative priority to respect the dignity of life, including the pre-born, the WSCC opposes SB 5768.
Senate Bill 5087 (SB 5087), which would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state and remove it from statute, has passed the Legislature and will be sent to the governor soon to be signed into law. In 2009 the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously determined that Washington’s death penalty is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner and therefore violates the state constitution. Additionally, in 2014 Governor Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty. However, these actions did not completely repeal the death penalty statute, leaving open the door that it could be applied in the future. SB 5087 removes language from state laws identified as defects and omissions as reported by the supreme court pursuant to the state constitution. Amongst numerous measures, repealing the death penalty is included in the bill. The WSCC has been advocating for the repeal for the death penalty for several years. In line with the bishops’ racial justice and respect life legislative priorities, the WSCC supports SB 5087.
House Bill 1177 (HB 1177) was passed by the Legislature and will soon be sent to the governor to be signed into law. Indigenous women experience violence at higher rates than other individuals and are murdered at rates greater than ten times the national average. These crimes are often unsolved or unreported. HB 1177 would create a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Investigation Assistance Unit within the Office of the Attorney General to increase capacity to help indigenous women and people and solve related crimes. In line with the bishops’ legislative priority to respect the dignity of all, the WSCC supports HB 1177.
The Legislature passed House Bill 1181 (HB 1181), and the House concurred with amendments to the bill made by the Senate. HB 1181 will be sent to the governor soon to be signed into law. The Growth Management Act (GMA) is a series of laws that was passed in 1990 and requires fast-growing cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. HB 1181 updates the GMA by adding a climate change and resiliency goal and requiring some counties and cities to address adverse impacts of climate change on people, property, and ecological systems and identify ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. In line with the bishops’ legislative priority of caring for God’s creation, the WSCC supports HB 1181.
The Legislature passed House Bill 1128 (HB 1128) and it will be sent to the governor soon to be signed into law. Medicaid recipients must contribute to the cost of their care. The amount of the required co-pay is equivalent to a recipient’s income, minus deductions, including a personal needs allowance. SB 5183 will increase this monthly personal needs allowance from $70 to $100. Related to the bishops' economic justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 1128.
House Bill 1329 (HB 1329) was passed by the Legislature, and it will be sent to the governor to be signed into law. HB 1329 would help individuals with low incomes by preventing utilities from shutting off their water or electricity due to nonpayment during periods of extreme heat. In line with the bishops’ economic justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 1329.
Senate Bill 5114 (SB 5114) has passed both chambers and will soon be sent to the governor to be signed into law. SB 5114 would support human trafficking survivors by administering funding for healing, support, and transition services for adults who are survivors of human trafficking. In accordance with the bishops’ legislative priority to respect the dignity of every human person and assist survivors of human trafficking, the WSCC supports SB 5114.
Senate Bill 5225 (SB 5225) has been passed by the Legislature, and it will soon be sent to the governor to be signed into law. SB 5225 would increase access to the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program. The WCCC provides child care subsidies to families in need. SB 5225 would improve the WCCC by increasing the eligibility of child care workers who have incomes up to 85% of the state median income. Copayments would also be waived to the extent allowable. In line with the bishops’ legislative priorities of economic justice and supporting children and families, the WSCC supports SB 5225.
Senate Bill 5453 (SB 5453) has been passed by the Legislature, and it will soon be sent to the governor to be signed into law. SB 5453 is designed to help survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM). SB 5453 creates a civil cause of action for survivors of FGM, defines FGM as unprofessional conduct under the Uniform Disciplinary Act for health care providers, creates education programs, and establishes FGM as a crime. In line with the bishops’ priority to respect the dignity of every human person, the WSCC supports SB 5453.
On April 7 House Bill 1048 (HB 1048) was delivered to the governor to be signed into law. HB 1048 will enhance the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA). The WVRA was passed in 2018 to expand access to fair and effective representation for historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. HB 1048 would improve the WVRA by refining language of who may recover costs incurred conducting research on alleged violations of the WVRA, allowing organizations and coalitions to file WVRA violations, permitting tribes to file WVRA claims, allowing the number of county commissioners to be increased to remedy violations related to tribal status, and establishing that state and local laws be construed in favor of protecting the right to vote. In line with the bishops’ racial justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 1048.
On April 7 House Bill 1265 (HB 1265) was delivered to the governor to be signed into law. HB 1265 expands the property tax exemption for housing for individuals with disabilities. In line with the bishops’ legislative priorities of caring for the aging and disabled and increasing affordable housing, the WSCC supports HB 1265.
House Bill 1151 (HB 1151) would have mandated health coverage of fertility services. The bill failed to pass out of Ways and Means, and is now dead for the session. The WSCC specifically opposed 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.
On March 29 the Senate passed House Bill 1784 (HB 1784), a hunger relief bill. The bill is now ready to be signed into law by Governor Inslee. HB 1784 addresses food insecurity and provides funding for hunger relief organizations and senior nutrition services programs. In line with the bishops’ economic justice priority and legislative priority to care for the aging, the WSCC supports HB 1784.
HB 1047, HB 1238, HB 1260, HB 1324, and SB 5256 have been passed by the Legislature. Bill descriptions are below. However, differing versions of these bills were passed by both chambers, and amendments must now be reconciled between the House and Senate before the bills can be sent to the governor to be signed into law. The Legislature has until the end of the legislative session on Sunday, April 23 to reconcile differences between the bills.
The Toxics Free Cosmetics Act, House Bill 1047 (HB 1047), addresses the fact that many personal care items and cosmetics contain chemicals that are unregulated, and are linked to cancer and developmental and reproductive harm. In addition to harming individuals, unregulated chemicals also pollute the environment during manufacturing and after disposal. The Toxics Free Cosmetics Act would ban certain hazardous chemicals in cosmetics, include hazard assessments of substitute chemicals, and provide incentives for small businesses to make safer cosmetics. In line with the bishops’ legislative priority of caring for God’s creation, the WSCC supports the Toxics Free Cosmetics Act.
House Bill 1238 (HB 1238) would require certain public schools serving grades K-4 to provide breakfast and lunch each school day at no charge to any student who requests these meals. This program would be phased in over the next two upcoming school years. In line with the bishops’ legislative priorities of children and families, economic justice, and education, the WSCC supports HB 1238.
House Bill 1260 (HB 1260) would improve rules for programs assisting those with disabilities or low incomes. Impacted programs include the Aged, Blind and Disabled Cash Assistance Program (ABD), supplemental security income (SSI) payments, Housing and Essential Needs (HEN), and the Pregnant Women Assistance (PWA) program. For example, beginning on October 1, 2025, individuals may receive both ABD and SSI. Also, under HB 1260 eligibility for programs is improved for those participating in substance use disorder treatment. In line with the bishops’ economic justice priority and legislative priority to care for the aging and disabled, the WSCC supports HB 1260.
House Bill 1324 (HB 1324) supports restorative justice and those with juvenile offenses. Currently, prior juvenile offenses will add points to an adult’s sentencing calculation for a separate crime. This practice unfairly punishes individuals twice for offenses committed as a juvenile, when one’s decision-making capacity and impulse control are still developing. In line with the bishops’ restorative justice legislative priority, the WSCC supports HB 1324.
Senate Bill 5256 (SB 5256) would improve the Child Welfare Housing Assistance Program. The Child Welfare Housing Assistance Pilot Program was established in Lewis County in 2020 and provides housing vouchers, rental assistance, navigation, and other support services to eligible families. Families are eligible for this program if they have a child that is in foster care or eligible for foster care and whose lack of appropriate housing is a remaining barrier to reunification. SB 5256 would make the Child Welfare Housing Assistance program permanent and expand it to serve one or more counties on the east and west sides of the Cascade Mountains. In line with the bishops’ legislative priorities of affordable housing and supporting children and families, the WSCC supports SB 5256.
On Wednesday the House passed Senate Bill 5599 (SB 5599), although amendments must be reconciled between the House and Senate versions of the bill before SB 5599 can be sent to the governor for his signature. Currently, licensed overnight shelters and licensed organizations providing services to homeless or runaway youth must contact a youth’s parents if they know that a child is away from home without parental permission. Exceptions may be made if notifying a parent or legal guardian will subject a minor to abuse or neglect. SB 5599 would further expand exceptions to notifying parents or legal guardians. Namely, if a youth is seeking an abortion or gender-affirming care, parents or legal guardians do not need to be notified. According to Catholic Social Teaching, the family is the most central social institution, and it must be supported and strengthened. SB 5599 undermines families. In line with the bishops’ legislative priorities to protect children and families and respect life, the WSCC opposes SB 5599.
Last week the Legislature voted to increase health coverage for abortion, Senate Bill 5242 (SB 5242). SB 5242 will prohibit health insurance plans from imposing cost sharing for abortion. Health insurers impose cost sharing for many medically necessary and life-saving procedures; abortion procedures need not be exempted from this practice. In line with the bishops’ legislative priority to respect life, the WSCC opposes SB 5242.
Thank you to advocates who used our Action Alert to urge their legislators to oppose the expansion of assisted suicide. Over 950 messages were sent to legislators during the session. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 5179 (SB 5179) passed out of both the Senate and House, and was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on April 6. In 2008 Washington voters approved Initiative 1000, the Physician-Assisted Death Initiative, but only after being assured that certain "safeguards" would be in place. SB 5179 loosens safeguards, increasing access to physician-assisted suicide and accelerating the process. The bill broadens the definition of a "qualified medical provider" who can make a diagnosis and prescribe lethal medication. Two physicians are no longer required to diagnose a patient. SB 5179 also loosens the definition of those who can provide counseling; in lieu of a psychiatrist or psychologist, a social worker, mental health counselor, or psychiatric advanced nurse practitioner may determine if a patient is suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgement. Additionally, this bill shortens the minimum amount of time from 15 days to seven days that a patient is required to wait between making a request and receiving a prescription to terminate his or her life. SB 5179 also permits assisted suicide prescriptions to be delivered via the mail. In accordance with the bishops' legislative priority to respect life from its beginning to natural end, the WSCC opposes SB 5179.