February 2, 2010

House committee passes Interpreters bill out of committee; Senate bill gets good hearing

The House version of the Federation-initiated bill extending collective bargaining rights to state interpreters cleared the House Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday on a 5-3 vote.

Committee Chair Rep. Steve Conway, D-29th Dist., said collective bargaining “is a problem solver” in trying to fix a broken system.

HB 3062 now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it has until Feb. 9 to pass.

Meanwhile, the Senate version, SB 6726, came before the Senate Labor, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.

Over the years, the interpreter program run by DSHS has gotten bogged down with a system of middlemen who siphon off mostly federal funding before it even reaches the interpreters doing the actual translation services for non-English speaking Medicaid clients visiting their doctors.

That’s the message the Federation’s Dennis Eagle delivered the committee.

SB 6726 not only extends collective bargaining rights to the interpreters, but reforms the delivery of services by ending the brokerage system of middlemen, he said.

The program has been targeted by the governor for elimination to save $4 million while forfeiting $12 million in federal funds. 

“The best chance we think to save this program is if we can achieve some savings…,” Eagle said.

“We’re losing more money to middlemen than we’re actually spending on interpreters.” 

Interpreter Cynthia Roat said technology exists that would allow online booking of interpreters, making the archaic system of brokers unnecessary. More money would go to interpreters, which would attract more interpreters and still save the state money, she said. 

“I think we can do this more cheaply, we can do it more efficiently and we can do it in a simpler way,” Roat said.

The bill is about solutions, said interpreter Narscisa Hodges.

Right now, 40 percent of the funding is lost on overhead to the middlemen brokers, she said.

“Forty percent overhead is wrong,” Hodges said. “We have ideas. Pass this bill. Let us form a workgroup to find the answers. We must cut or limit middlemen and overhead costs. We must restore professional pay and fairness to improve quality. This will save money for the state.”

SB 6726 has until Friday to clear the Senate committee.

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