Monday, January 20, 2014

Making Legislative Priorities Heard in Olympia

Above: Marchers with Washington CAN! and POWER! walked to the Capitol Building, then spoke with their legislators about their concerns today.
By Janine Unsoeld

“An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”
 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Marching from downtown Olympia to the Washington State Capitol building, activists with Washington CAN! (Community Action Network), and POWER! (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights), converged today as a collective force to express their priorities to their legislators.
Today is also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Washington CAN! is a grassroots community organization with over 44,000 dues paying members from every legislative district in the state. Emphasizing racial, social and economic justice, about 140 members of that organization came to Olympia today to meet with their legislators on four main priorities:

-Realize the promise of health reform and save Basic Health (SB 6231);
-Urge the Washington State Senate to pass the DREAM Act (HB 1817);
-Increase access to dental care for consumers (HB 2321); and
-Give workers access to paid sick days (HB 1313).
Organizing all morning at the Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia, activists were briefed on state legislation regarding Basic Health, the Dream Act, paid sick days, and dental access, then broke into small role-playing groups to rehearse brief, personal statements about their own experiences on these issues.
Mariah McKay, a lead WA-CAN! organizer, said the group at today’s effort included about 50 people from Eastern Washington, 30 from Seattle, 30 from the Greater Seattle area, 10 from Olympia, 10 from Tacoma, and 10 from rural communities throughout the state.

Shancie Wagner, a dentist from Spokane, came to Olympia to testify this afternoon to the House Health Care & Wellness Committee in support of HB 2321 to expand access to dental care. Wagner is the first private dentist in the state to express her support of dental access for all.
HB 2321 would create a new mid-level dental provider – a dental therapist – as an effective way to create much needed jobs and meet the growing demand, particularly among low-income people, communities of color and Native communities.  According to Washington-CAN!, thirty out of 39 counties in Washington face a shortage of dental care professionals. 

Wagner said she helped pass a bill in Minnesota similar to Washington’s HB 2321, and that the dental therapist model that exists in Minnesota and Alaska works well.  
“A dental therapist is like a hygienist and a dentist – the person would do extractions and fillings. I trained with the very first dental therapist in Minnesota and saw first-hand that these people are competent because they are trained in limited procedures. They were, in fact, better at it than dental students. Dentists can hire them to do the simple stuff, and then we (dentists) can do the more complicated stuff.

“We should also restore Medicaid service payments to providers...I accept Medicaid, but I can only accept a certain percentage - the reimbursement rates are so low, I lose money.” Asked how much, Wagner says she loses about $200 an hour.
“I’ve only been a dentist for two years, and I have a $5,000 a month student loan to pay.”

Asked why she became a dentist, Wagner said, “I was always terrified of the dentist, so I developed a passion of how it should be done – and I wanted to serve the community,” she smiled.
Nearby, Rayan Orbom, 21, a student of Eastern Washington University in Spokane, said she works in the dental field, and was also in Olympia in support of affordable dental care.

Several members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane were sporting their new League T-shirts and said they will be speaking with their 4th Legislative District representatives about their concerns.
Jennifer Calvert, a retired teacher from Spokane, said she is concerned about restoring cost-of-living adjustments, increasing teacher’s salaries, and decreasing class sizes.

A young man, Marcelas Owens, 14, of Seattle, knocked everyone out with his on-stage, pre-march rendition of the Black National Anthem.
Later, walking up to the Capitol, Owens said he’s been working on social justice issues since he was seven years old.
“I started on health care, but now I’m mostly interested in youth involvement.”

For more information about Washington CAN!, go to, or 220 South River Street #11, Seattle, Washington 98108, (206) 389-0050.
To follow Washington State Legislation, go to or call the hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

For more about POWER!, go to, (360) 352-9716 or toll-free, 1-866-343-9716.