Ty Swenson
34th District Rep. Eileen Cody speaks with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce on June 20 at the Kenney in West Seattle.

Rep. Eileen Cody reports back from Olympia

Reporting from the battlefield, 34th District State Representative Eileen Cody shared the latest in budget negotiations and bills that have passed in Olympia with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce on June 20.

State lawmakers are threatening a government shutdown if a budget is not passed by July 1.

“We’ll have a budget by June 30,” Cody reassured the crowd of business owners gathered at the Kenney. “It’s been a question and it’s not done yet … but it’s going in the right direction and everyone believes we’ll get it accomplished at this point.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared with the group:

Affordable care act
Regarding healthcare (Cody’s specialty as chair of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee), she said the state is moving forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which will include the need for the uninsured individuals to pick a plan. A website will open in October to help people find out if they are eligible for subsidies, and they will need to make a choice that will kick in Jan. 1.

Cody said the average plan will come in at $340 a month (with “youngsters” able to get a plan below $100 in some cases). The IRS fine for not picking up insurance will be lower than the cost of any plan (around $95 a year), leading many to believe at least young people will simply pay the fine to avoid health care payments.

Guns and mental health
While lawmakers were unable to close the Washington gun show loophole (allowing for the purchase of firearms without a background check), Cody said “we accelerated the … standards for mentally ill so that families can have more input. If someone has a pattern of not taking their meds and then getting out of control it’s been difficult for families to get the mental health professionals to actually pay attention to that, and part of it was the way the law was written.”

Cody said the law passed a few years ago, but actually got funding is this session.

“That’s a big improvement for families with mentally ill members,” she said.

Word of this funding comes just over a year after Ian Stawicki took the lives of five people in the Café Racer shooting before taking his own life in West Seattle. Stawicki’s father Walt has called for better mental health funding in the wake of his son’s actions.

Cody said lawmakers are also working to fund more local mental health treatment centers.

Education
“There hasn’t been as much policy changes this year in education as there has been a focus on how to spend the money and where to put it,” she said, adding that funding “birth to five” early education learning was a major priority.

“All the studies are now showing that that’s the years that are most important … especially on languages. We really need to be starting out foreign languages in kindergarten rather than in high school; it’s really screwy how we have done things through the years.”

Cody said a bill was passed to fund identifying talented students and properly moving them up to challenging curriculum, and “for the schools that aren’t doing well, we gave more tools to (superintends) to be able to come in and work on those schools if they don’t come up to standards. West Seattle Elementary was one of the failing schools, and has done really well … it’s really great to see them turning around and this is the second step.”

Cody said the Dream Act did not pass. It was intended to allow high school graduates who are not U.S. citizens to be eligible for college scholarships and had “broad bipartisan support in the House,” but was shot down in the Senate.

“We have kids who are graduating as valedictorian of their class and they are not citizens, and so we don’t permit them to get any support from the state to go on.”

She said the bipartisan support hopefully means the Dream Act will pass in a future session.

Compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned
“One of the bills that didn’t necessarily get a lot of press, but I think was one of the more humane things we passed this year was compensation for wrongful imprisonment,” Cody said. “We were one of the last states that have done this.”

She said the testimony was “heartbreaking,” including that of a man who was in prison for 17 years, lost his wife and kids, and “even though he was found totally innocent” he has had a hard time finding work and reassembling a life.

“People were moved to tears over that whole issue,” Cody said, giving credit to 33rd District Rep. Tina Orwall, who championed the bill.

Rep. Cody has lived in West Seattle since 1978 and has represented the 34th district since 1992. She also works at Group Health Cooperative (and has for the past 35 years) as a neuro-rehab nurse. She currently chairs the House Health Care and Wellness Committee in Olympia.

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