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Representatives pass school-based health programs bill

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| March 2, 2021 1:00 AM

Elementary, middle and high schools in Washington offering health care services to students may get more support from the state if a bill in the Washington House of Representatives is signed into law.

House Bill 1225, which passed in a 60-36 vote Friday during a virtual floor debate, would require the state Department of Health to establish a school-based health program office within the department.

The office would award grants to finance the start-up or ongoing costs of school-based health centers, according to the bill’s text, as well as provide training and technical assistance to the health centers.

More than 50 school-based health centers can be found around the state, according to the bill’s text. The centers provide medical, behavioral and health care services to elementary, middle and high school students.

Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier, D-Vancouver, is HB 1225’s primary sponsor. Stonier said during the virtual floor debate families and students who are challenged with poverty often lack access to health care services.

“Our parents who are working jobs and cobbling together hours to try and put food on the table struggle to get their students ... checked out when they’re not feeling well,” Stonier said.

HB 1225 would help students receive the health care services they need, Stonier said, by requiring the DOH to provide technical support and guidance to school-based health centers.

“Now that we have experienced this pandemic ... we know that (students) are going to need these services, even more so than before,” Stonier said.

Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, said during the virtual floor debate legislation like HB 1225 may prevent parents from having “proper management” of their child. Parents feel school-based health centers may start offering abortion services in the future.

“There are parents that are very concerned about this legislation and what it will open the door to not just today, but tomorrow,” Kraft said.

Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, voted in favor of HB 1225. Ybarra said during the virtual floor debate the Quincy School District has a school-based health center, and parents in the district had reservations about it in the beginning.

Ybarra said the Quincy School Board listened to the parents’ concerns, and ultimately, the board made sure the services parents shared concerns about were not offered at the school’s health center.

Quincy students can only access the school-based health center if their parents sign them up for it, Ybarra said. This allows parents to have a choice in whether their child can have access to those services.

“We listened to the concerns,” Ybarra said. “We did what we did, (and) it seems to be working in our district.”

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, voted against HB 1225. Schmick said during the virtual floor debate the legislature worked hard to allocate more money in the state’s education system — the state does not have an “endless pot of money.”

During the morning session, the House also approved HB 1325 (in a 92-5 vote), HB 1061 (97-0), HB 1525 (97-0), HB 1295 (97-0), HB 1208 (93-4) and HB 1348 (97-0). The bills will head to the respective Senate committees.

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