Skip to main content Skip to navigation
WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

WSU infectious disease expert briefs Senate committee

The Senate Health Care & Wellness committee held a work session on the COVID-19 pandemic this morning, including a presentation from WSU professor Guy Palmer for his insight on where we’ve gone through the pandemic as a state and where we might be heading.

Palmer, Regents Professor of Pathology and Infectious Disease at WSU in the Paul G. Allen School of Global Health, began his remarks by detailing the state’s “just-in-time” health care system that was in place before the pandemic. Public health systems throughout the state began the pandemic lacking the necessary resources to navigate the situation as it transpired. Many county health departments in the state had insufficient epidemiology and logistic resources needed to address the challenges presented by the virus, “They didn’t really have surge capacity,” said Palmer in his remarks to the committee, “It’s noted as a point of reference that Seattle and King County Public Health are basically the same size as all of the other county health offices put together.” The lack of resources resulted in counties being unaware of what transmission looked like in their communities early in the pandemic, compared to the rest of the state and country.

With the state currently facing a large increase of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, Palmer, who is also providing scientific counsel to WSU’s COVID-19 response, shared his thoughts to where the pandemic may go from here. He noted that the omicron variant appears to be following the pattern that many viruses tend to, with a decrease virulence, or severity, but increased transmissibility. “Traditionally, many viruses maintain a high level of transmissibility but decrease their ability to cause disease. Will COVID follow this pattern? Obviously there is a lot of hope that this will, because that would be one of the major steps towards decreased impact on society.”

For the virus to spread it must enter the cell, antibodies created by vaccines or by previous infection can prevent that virus from binding and entering the cell. The question remains, shared Palmer, “How much can that virus change, while allowing it still to get into a cell and escape immunity?”

The scientific community continues to assess the impact of multiple infections on immunity. With other coronaviruses and the flu, multiple infections and vaccination have shown to provide that immunity to the virus over time. “In a common cold and flu season, your children are more likely to infect you, because they don’t have much built up immunity – over time they build that immunity,” Palmer told the committee.

The question to ask then, according to Palmer, is if we will we see this with COVID-19. “We’re hopeful that it’s true, because these things would lead us to the end game where we have an endemic infection with minimal impact on healthcare services and severe health consequences.”

Following Palmer’s remarks, Senator Ann Rivers of La Center asked if it would be better to call the COVID-19 vaccine a ‘shot,’ rather than a ‘vaccination,’ because of the incorrect assumption people may make that vaccination provides complete immunity. Palmer responded that “very few vaccines against any disease – any viral pathogen – do that. Even our most effective vaccines such as measles do not prevent infections, what they do is they prevent severe disease – which is really what vaccines are intended to do.”

Dr. Palmer’s full presentation to the committee can be viewed below.

College affordability bill heard, WSU testifies in support

A number of bills seeking to address college affordability were heard in front of the House College & Workforce Development committee this morning. Among these was HB 1659, which WSU supported with public testimony during the hearing.

HB 1659 would expand access to the Washington College Grant program by expanding the income eligibility thresholds and allow bridge grants to be awarded to College Grant recipients who receive the maximum grant benefit. These bridge grants could be spent on non-tuition expenses that students incur, such as textbook and housing costs.

“What started as an effort to fully fund the State Need Grant has turned into the advent of the Washington College Grant, has turned into this effort to bring the full power of the Washington College Grant to even more families” said Chris Mulick, WSU Director of State Relations in virtual testimony to the committee. Bridge grants could be spent on important non-tuition expenses that students incur during their academic journeys, such as textbook and housing costs.

The bill now waits for a vote by the policy committee which has not yet been scheduled. You can view Mulick’s full testimony below:

WSU supports governor’s capital budget proposal in committee

In the second day of legislative activity, the House Capital Budget committee heard Governor Inslee’s proposed capital budget, which would provide $8 million to WSU to install compact shelving in Holland Library on the Pullman campus.

The renovation would allow WSU to install high-density compact shelving and consolidate space in Holland and centralize library collections from both Holland and Owen libraries. “We envision being able to repurpose space in Holland at a later date to add valuable student study and collaboration spaces that are in high demand on any college campus” said Chris Mulick, WSU Director of State Relations, in testimony to the committee.

This consolidation will also allow WSU to utilize the found space in Owen for academic instruction as part of a future renovation. You can watch Mulick’s testimony below:

WSU throws support behind SANE nursing bill

In its first committee hearing of the legislative session, the House College & Workforce Development committee heard a bill that seeks to expand important educational opportunities for nurses addressing sexual assault situations in Washington.

HB 1622, introduced by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, would require the WSU College of Nursing to establish a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE, online and clinical training program and a program to develop and train lead SANEs.

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle provides such training in Seattle but the bill would provide opportunities on Washington’s east side. If the bill were to be approved and funded, WSU would offer online didactic instruction as well as the required on-site facility training. The program would be made available first in Spokane, with potential to expand to Yakima a year after.

As Washington’s land grant university, WSU provides dedicated research and education in service to state. Each legislative session a number of bills are introduced that, if passed and fully funded, would create research and education assignments for WSU. In the case of SANE education, WSU Director of State Relations Chris Mulick said “it’s natural WSU would be looked to for this, WSU is largest producer of nurses in Washington.”

The bill now awaits a vote by the policy committee.

You can watch testimony Mulick’s full testimony on HB 1622 here:

Legislature convenes, budget hearings begin

The Legislature convened for the 2022 legislative session today, beginning a 60-day supplemental session in a fully remote setting. While the state Senate had previously planned to include some in-person activity, it reverted course last week with the rise of COVID-19 cases.

In testimony before the House Appropriations committee this afternoon, state budget director David Schumacher noted that this budget will be unlike previous supplemental budgets which have historically featured marginal changes in state spending. “We have a considerable amount of one time federal money that was not appropriated in the last budget, totaling $1.3 billion dollars.” A number of challenges face the state this session, he said, noting public health capacity, housing affordability, transportation infrastructure, and challenges presented by climate change.

Last month, the governor’s operating budget proposal included funding for WSU’s top priorities. $7.3 million was provided to allow a 3.25 percent compensation increase for classified staff, with $5.1 million remaining to fund compensation enhancements for faculty, exempt staff and graduate students.

The operating budget proposal provided $4.448 million in requested annual funding to establish academic programs in cybersecurity at WSU in Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Everett. It also fully funded WSU’s $341,000 ask to develop a one-year psychiatric pharmacy residency program, a program being developed collaboratively with colleagues at the University of Washington.

Find WSU’s remarks on the governor’s budget below:

Governor budget proposal funds top WSU priorities

The governor’s supplemental operating budget proposal released this afternoon would fund WSU legislative priorities to enhance employee compensation, develop two new academic programs in cybersecurity, and build a psychiatric pharmacy residency program.

The governor’s budget provided $7.3 million for compensation enhancements. After a 3.25 percent increase for classified staff is fully funded under the proposal, $5.1 million is left for compensation enhancements for faculty, exempt staff and graduate students.

The operating budget proposal provides the requested $4.448 million in annual funding for WSU to establish two undergraduate programs in cybersecurity at the Pullman, Tri-Cities and Everett campuses to strengthen the state’s cybersecurity workforce. WSU is hoping to establish a new Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity Operations through the Voiland College of Engineering and a new major in Information Assurance within the Carson College of Business’ Business Administration degree program.

The governor’s budget also fully funds WSU’s ask for $341,000 to develop a one-year psychiatric pharmacy residency program. It would enroll two residents per year and fund a faculty adviser, all of whom would be providing care in a clinical setting in Eastern Washington. The program is being developed in tandem with the University of Washington.

The proposal also includes $500,000 in the operating budget for WSU to work with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Commissions on African American Affairs, Hispanic Affairs, Asian Pacific American Affairs and the Governor’s Office on Indian Affairs to provide guidance to students of color in grades 6 and up who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. This work has been a particular strength of WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, where at least 40 percent of the student body is made up of students of color.

What’s more, the governor’s supplemental capital budget proposal provides $8 million to allow the Holland and Owen libraries to install high-density compact shelving, consolidating space to allow for the university to create new student support space in a future renovation.

The release of the operating and capital budget comes after the governor rolled out proposed investments earlier in the week to address climate change, salmon recovery, and homelessness. Other notable investments made in the governor’s proposed budget include support for poverty reduction and foster youth . You can view details of the budget here.

The state House and Senate will convene for its 60-day 2022 legislative session on Jan. 10 to begin writing their budget proposals in time to negotiate an agreement to send to the governor in March.

Compensation, cybersecurity, mental health top WSU legislative priorities

Washington State University is advancing to the Legislature three primary priorities to support faculty and staff and workforce needs in cybersecurity and behavioral and mental health. The Legislature is set to convene its mostly virtual 2022 legislative session on Jan. 10th, with a hybrid of in-person and remote activities.

The university’s largest request in the supplemental operating budget is for $9.365 million to provide compensation increases in the fiscal year of 2023. These funds will allow WSU to support existing employees who have experienced budget reductions and increased responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic but did not receive a cost of living adjustment this year due to the pandemic. Facing increases in inflation, it would allow WSU to retain important staff and faculty who deliver the university’s tripartite mission of teaching, research and public service.

The university is also requesting $4.448 million to establish two new undergraduate programs at three campuses to bolster the cybersecurity workforce in Washington. The first is a Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity Operations that would prepare students to design and create secure networks, methods of transporting data and security measures such as firewalls. This program would be housed within the university’s Voiland College of Engineering. The second degree program, housed in the Carson College of Business that would utilize their Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration degree, is an Information Assurance major that would train students to devise security strategies and policies for their employers, analyze attacks and assess risk tolerance. If funded, these programs would be offered at WSU campuses in Pullman, Tri-Cities and Everett.

The final request WSU is advancing for the supplemental session is for $341,000 to establish a one-year pharmacy residency program that would train two residents each year in Eastern Washington. This request has been brought forward in tandem with a similar request by the University of Washington, as both institutions seek to enhance training and expertise in Washington communities on mental health for pharmacists.

The governor is expected to release his proposed 2022 supplemental budget next week. Leaders in the House and Senate will begin working on their versions in January.

You can find WSU’s 2022 legislative agenda here.

Extension professor presents practical solutions to food insecurity to Senate Ag committee

Washington State University Associate Professor Trevor Lane presented to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks committee on Tuesday, briefing the committee on work WSU Extension is doing to combat food insecurity and poverty in rural communities using greenhouse technology and other solutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lane, who also works as a State Specialist with Extension, noted that challenges facing rural communities during the pandemic in food insecurity were not unique, “COVID-19 has definitely brought to light some of the things we deal with on a regular basis for more people.” The three elements to the problem facing food systems noted by Lane were access, affordability, and adoption. In practicality, this has meant the ability to grow local and throughout the region in a connected way that allows for distribution of food in different Washington communities.

Through Extension, Lane detailed solutions that are being offered to eastern and northeastern Washington communities. They are assisting with technology integration on small farms and ranches, which will help improve their crop and outputs and supporting their workforce through upskilling on these new technologies.

To help further educate and measure improvements in technology systems and food systems that will prevent insecurity and poverty, Lane shared that Extension is in the process of establishing a statewide Community and Economic Development Certificate program that they hope improves quality of life in all Washington communities.

You can watch his presentation to the committee below.

State revenue forecast continues to improve, increases by $898 million in the current biennium

The quarterly state economic and revenue forecast was adopted this morning during the November meeting of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The forecast will be used by the governor as he crafts his 2022 supplemental budget proposal to be released in mid-December, ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

The revenue report estimated an increase to the state’s current budget by $898 million, projecting a total fund of $60.2 billion in the current 2021-23 biennium. It also improved the next biennial budget by $965 million, totaling $64 billion in the 2023-25 biennium.

Steve Lerch, Executive Director of the Council, reported that the increase in the state’s economic outlook is due to a number of factors. Among those is a financial institutions tax that was upheld by the state Supreme Court last week, along with stronger-than-expected growth in retail and real estate sales and slightly stronger construction employment. Additionally, state tax collections continue to show stronger than projected with the last two revenue reports showing $292.2 million or 7.3 percent higher than the September forecast.

However, potential downsides to the forecast that were detailed by Lerch included higher inflation and national flattening of COVID-19 cases after a few weeks of declines. Also, goods prices rose at their fastest annual rate in 30 years during the month of October. Despite this, consumers continued to buy as US retail trade sales increased in the same month.

The state Office of Financial Management, the governor’s budget office, released a statement that can be found here and the full report from the Council is here.

September revenue forecast maintains growth

State revenues continue to improve in both the current and future biennial budgets, according to a new outlook report on Friday.

The September revenue forecast projected an increase of $927 million in the current 2021-23 biennium and $931 million in the next biennium, 2023-25, during a presentation to the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

Uncertainties remain as the state wrestles with a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in past weeks, along with supply chain issues in some sectors and possible increases in inflation. However, economic trends continue to hold and the state economy is expected to outperform the national economy in both employment and personal income growth.

The forecast assumed that the Congressional Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will pass and builds on strong monthly revenue reports which came in higher than projected in every month since the last revenue forecast in June.

The ERFC will produce one more forecast this year on November 19th, which the governor will use to craft his supplemental budget to be considered during the 2022 legislative session.