WA lawmakers ride the "Age Wave"

Across party lines, there's an awareness of this trend for the future
By Chris Thomas | Feb 11, 2013

Lawmakers in Olympia know they're getting older and everyone else in the state is, too. Today and Tuesday, they are discussing what to do about it.

One proposed bill creates a joint committee on aging and disability issues. The idea is from Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Dist. 24), a former Clallam County commissioner, who said more than 30 percent of his district's residents are already age 65 or older. Washington has no time to waste in preparing for the "age wave," he warned, and lawmakers know they need to address it.

"It's got a good shot," he said. "Doing this joint select committee really gives us a chance to work on it over the interim, between this year's session and next year's session, so that we have a good idea of what legislation might look like."

Tharinger compared it to another committee created a few years ago to address the state's role in improving early learning. The House Health Care and Wellness Committee will take up his bill (HB 1631) on Tuesday.

A companion bill, from Oak Harbor Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Dist. 10), proposes the joint committee and also directs the state to look at ways to expand existing programs for families and caregivers.

In addition, it orders a study of new ways to fund long-term care. Bailey said many people just cannot afford long-term care insurance, and Medicaid should not be the only option, she added.

"This is one of the things that really, truly, government should be involved in, because if we live long enough, all of us are going to need some kind of extra care. How we plan for that is truly an effort that everyone should be involved in."

Bailey's bill (SB 5519) is being heard today in the Senate Health Care Committee.

Ingrid McDonald, advocacy director for AARP Washington, said there is bipartisan support for both bills.

"Across party lines, there's an awareness of this trend for the future. And there's a concern that we prepare, so that we can have an age-friendly environment, where people can age successfully, with dignity, and remain engaged and have a high quality of life."

Lawmakers will hear more about the ways Washington can adapt to an aging population on Wednesday at the AARP legislative luncheon, McDonald added.

The hearing on SB 5519 is today at 10 a.m. in the Cherberg Building, Senate Hearing Rm. 4. The hearing on HB 1631 will be Feb. 12 at 1:30 p.m. in the O'Brien Building, House Hearing Rm. B.


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