SB 5499 aims to supplement the state’s nurse workforce, as it will enter Washington into the compact. The compact expedites licensure for registered nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses who are already licensed in another state. It allows them to have one multi-state license in order to practice in their home state and other compact states without obtaining additional licenses.
Washington is currently one of only 13 states that is not a member of the compact. Legislation that would have entered the state into the compact has been introduced before—including SB 5247, which died in committee in March 2022—but never progressed like SB 5499 has.
Vermont joined the compact on Feb. 1st, 2022, also aiming to supplement its workforce. But Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals President Deb Snell told State of Reform the state hasn’t seen a significant influx of nurses since the state joined the compact.
“It basically came down to, we had to try something because the workforce was struggling so much,” Snell said. “But we have not noticed a difference in Vermont. I’ve done a ton of research, and haven’t seen [a big difference] in other states either.”
The latest data on the Vermont Department of Health’s website showed a total of 10,727 RNs working in the state in 2021 (prior to Vermont’s entrance into the compact), which represented an increase of 1,229 workers from 2019.
A primary concern for Snell is the high cost of living in Vermont. She believes the compact will motivate nurses to travel to states where the cost of living is cheaper.
“I’m not sure about Washington, but what people don’t know about Vermont is that the price of living is ridiculously high,” Snell said. “I was concerned young nurses would leave to go where it is cheaper to live. A lot of states that joined [the compact] originally were Midwest and Southern states with lower cost of living, and they wanted to attract people from other states because [they wouldn’t have] to pay for licenses.”
Snell also believes the compact allows for circumstances in which nurses who may have had a history with disciplinary issues in certain states to work in other states without disclosing that information.
“[Other states] tried to pass it with nurses having to self-report to the state, and we don’t have that in Vermont,” she said. “People with disciplinary issues could come to the state, and we wouldn’t know. I don’t like not knowing who I’m working with, and this gives you an opportunity to job jump and not get caught if you’re a travel nurse. We have almost 300 travel nurses in our hospitals, and they’re temporary. And that’s what’s concerning.”
Ashlen Strong, senior director of government affairs for the Washington State Hospital Association, testified in support of SB 5499 during a House Appropriations Committee meeting on April 1st.
“The nation is facing a nursing shortage, and we need more nurses to staff our hospitals so we can continue to provide care to patients in this state,” Strong said. “This bill is another tool to help us address that shortage. The bill before you was carefully crafted to address concerns raised about the nursing compact by nursing unions in Washington State. There is no longer opposition to this bill.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) believes entering the compact will allow Washington to attract nurses from other states because its average RN salary is the fifth highest in the nation at $96,980.
“The nursing compact has been before the legislature in the past, however this year is different,” Strong said. “This bill passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington State’s nursing salary is higher than every current member state of the compact. We already have the competitive edge, we just need to make it easier to practice here. And the compact will do that.”