January 19, 2011

Save Interpreter Services, Maple Lane School, Frances Haddon Morgan Center, union urges

Federation speakers pressed House budget writers Tuesday to save interpreter services, Maple Lane School, Frances Haddon Morgan Center and in important Community Corrections tool.

All are slated for fast-track elimination in the next few months unless supplemental funds are appropriated.

Allison Ostrer, one of the Federation's newest Interpreters United activists, urged lawmakers to save the medical interpreter services program slated for elimination March 1.

"Interpreters speak for those who otherwise would not be heard or understood," she told the House Ways and Means Committee. "Patients need a live, in-person, unbiased, educated interpreter with them in their essential medical encounters."

If the program is cut, 4,600 patients a week won't be able to communicate with doctors, she said. Providers won't be able to afford interpreters, patients will end up in emergency rooms or children will be pressed to translate to ill parents.

"Imagine, a child telling her mother she has terminal cancer, a child trying to explain a surgical procedure to her grandmother," she said.

Right now, 48 percent of the interpreter budget goes to middlemen-agencies and brokers, Federation Lobbyist Alia Griffing said.

"Any way you look at it, cutting interpreter services makes no sense," Ostrer said. "Washington needs to work with interpreters to create a better, more efficient system that eliminates the current multiple layers of middlemen who weigh it down and skim off millions of dollars in their own profits."

Oleg Gouts, another interpreter, said the program began after 15 civil rights complaint were filed in 1991.

"This is a civil rights and medical issue," he said. "I ask you, does one person have more rights to a doctor because she speaks English? Cutting interpreters is not just morally wrong, it will cost the state more money."


Griffing zeroed in on the proposed closures and the elimination of tolling in the Department of Corrections.

Promised safety precautions for transferring Maple Lane's juvenile offenders haven't materialized, Griffing said.

"None of that has happened, which creates safety concerns for our staff, the juveniles being transferred and the juveniles at the facility that is receiving these individuals," she said.

The closure of Frances Haddon Morgan Center also makes no fiscal or common sense, Griffing said.

"It's not going to be any cheaper to have these folks in the community given the generally greater acuity that is served at RHCs (residential habilitation centers)," she said. "And since most of these residents will end up in the community at private facilities, rather than transfer them to state facilities, we see this in essence as jobs being contracted out again where there's no real savings."


Griffing urged the committee to reject the elimination of the tolling tool in Community Corrections.

"Released offenders won't spend enough time in the Community Corrections system to receive services for mental health or chemical dependency that they would currently receive," she said. "Sixty percent of the offenders would be released directly into the public without any treatment."

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote on the 2011 Supplemental Budget (House Bill 1086) Wednesday afternoon. This is the short-term budget to cover the budget gap in the next four months. The much larger budget for 2011-2013 is still to come.


Federation Lobbyist Matt Zuvich raised concerns in the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday about HB 1247, which revises the staffing levels for Secure Community Transitional Facilities (SCTF) tied to the state's sexually violent predator program. HB 1247 would remove the requirement that an SCTF with six or fewer residents be staffed by a residential rehabilitation counselor 2 or higher. "Allowing the agency to create a classification of employee that requires all the training and experience that the current position has I assume that would also come with a pay cut doesn't seem right to me," Zuvich said.

Senate Bill 5249 introduced Wednesday would move Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers into the Washington State Patrol. It's been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.

House Bill 1321 introduced Wednesday would give state park rangers general law enforcement authority with equal priority for law enforcement training. HB 1321 has been referred to the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Senate Bill 5247 introduced Wednesday by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler aims to control health insurance premiums by requiring nonprofit health carriers to charge rates closer to what coverage actually costs. It's been referred to the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee.

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