State Relations

January 28, 2021

Session news: Virtual legislative session begins with UW testimony on the Governor’s budgets

The 2021 legislative session began on Jan. 11 in a virtual format. Legislators convened at the Capitol building on the first day under strict safety standards to take the in-person vote required to allow for a virtual session and then returned to their legislative districts to conduct business for the remainder of session.

This long legislative session is scheduled to last 105 consecutive days and will determine the 2021-23 state operating, capital, and transportation budgets. Legislators must also apply fixes to the 2019-21 operating budget due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some highlights from the first few weeks of this unique session:

The UW weighs in on the Governor’s budget proposals

Director of State Relations, Joe Dacca, testified in support of the Governor’s operating budget proposal – which provides significant investments to the UW and UW Medicine – in the House  and Senate fiscal committees. He applauded the $60 million in one-time funding directed to UW Medicine for COVID-19 response efforts and the additional, ongoing funding specified for Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, and the UW Dentistry clinics to support their role as critical safety-net health care providers in the state.

However, Joe did oppose a component of the Governor’s proposal that requires 24 furlough days and suspends merit increases for University faculty and staff through the 2021-23 biennium. He also testified in opposition to the corresponding legislation, Senate Bill 5323, alongside a number of higher education colleagues. The higher education community has worked hard to communicate why this proposal is harmful and the Office of State Relations will continue to prioritize and convey this message with legislators. At this time, it remains to be seen whether the bill will advance through the legislative process.

Associate Director of State Relations, Morgan Hickel, submitted written testimony supporting the Governor’s proposed capital budget because the University’s capital priorities were all fully funded. Due to the virtual format, written testimony has been provided as a new option to engage in committee hearings this legislative session.

The Governor’s proposed budgets represent the first step in the budget process. The House and Senate will introduce their separate proposals later in session so stay tuned for updates.

President Cauce meets with leadership

On Jan. 19, President Ana Mari Cauce had her first virtual meetings with leaders in both the Senate and House. She highlighted how the unprecedented events of 2020 shine a spotlight on the essential role of the UW and UW Medicine in our state. Her comments focused on the UW’s collective efforts in responding to the pandemic, the remaining and evolving challenges, and her hopes for the future.

She also championed the UW’s legislative agenda, which encourages legislators to preserve the University’s current state funding levels to avoid significant harm to the UW community and increase critical funding support for UW Medicine, and expressed significant concerns regarding the Governor’s state employee furlough proposal.

State revenues have improved since the November forecast, but the historic investments made in public higher education and UW Medicine during the 2019-21 biennium remain at risk while the pandemic continues. The UW’s legislative agenda prioritizes what the University and our health systems need most to continue to operate and serve our students, patients, faculty and staff, and the state.

UW Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness participates in Senate work session

Drs. Judith Wasserheit and Peter Rabinowitz, co-chairs of the UW Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness, participated in a work session on pandemics in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee. Legislators hold work sessions to educate themselves on relevant and important topics and to inform future decision making.

Joined by Dr. Peter Ehrenkranz with The Gates Foundation, Drs. Wasserheit and Rabinowitz presented comprehensive information about past pandemics, the likelihood of future pandemics, and what Washington state, the nation, and the world can do to prepare and respond. Thank you Dr. Wasserheit and Dr. Rabinowitz for providing your expertise to inform policymaking!