Washington lawmakers gain support for health workforce compact bills, continuing trend from last year’s legislative session


Shane Ersland


Washington lawmakers have garnered support for a couple health workforce bills that, if voted into law, would add to the state’s trend of entering compacts over the past two years.

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Senate Bill 5815 passed in the Senate on Jan. 24th and had its first reading in the House on Monday. The bill would enter Washington into the Physician’s Assistant (PA) Compact in an attempt to supplement the state’s PA workforce. 

House Bill 1939 passed in the House on Jan. 29th and had its first reading in the Senate the following day. The bill would enter Washington into the Social Work Licensure Compact aiming to bolster the state’s social worker workforce. 

The state joined the Nurse Licensure Compact, the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact, and the Counseling Compact last year. 

The PA Compact

Lawmakers discussed SB 5815 during a Jan. 9th Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee meeting. Kevin Black, committee staff, said the PA Compact was finalized in 2023. Washington would join three other states—Delaware, Utah, and Wisconsin—in the compact if the bill is approved.

“The compact will become effective when seven states enact the compact, after which there will be a 24-month period before the compact is operational,” Black said. “Its terms are similar to other compacts in that they allow a PA from the home state to practice in a remote state that is participating in the compact, and vice versa, without licensing in the remote state.”

Sen. Ron Muzzall (R-Oak Harbor) is the sponsor of SB 5815.

“This, in my mind, is another workforce issue,” Muzzall said. “As far as the bill’s concerned, I think it’s a slam dunk.”

Eileen Ravella, past president of the Washington Academy of Physician Assistants, voiced her support for SB 5815. She said six other states have legislation pending that would enter them into the PA Compact, and seven more are expected to follow suit.

“States agree to recognize a valid unencumbered license issued by another compact member state via a compact privilege, which is equivalent to a license. PAs will be able to apply for a compact privilege through a streamlined process, which is sorely needed. Washington can be among the first states leading the way for increased access to care for patients, especially in rural areas.”

— Ravella

SB 5815 would also build on efforts to expand telehealth in the state, Ravella said. 

“The legislature has worked to improve access through telehealth, and this bill builds upon that work,” Ravella said. “The compact will make it easier for military families by allowing active duty personnel and their spouses to obtain a compact privilege, based on having an unrestricted license in good standing from a participating state.”

HB 1917 would also enter Washington into the PA compact. The bill was approved by the House on Jan. 29th and had its first reading in the Senate the following day.  

The Social Work Licensure Compact

Lawmakers discussed HB 1939 during a Jan. 10th House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Committee meeting. Elizabeth Allison, committee staff, said Washington licenses two types of social workers—independent clinical social workers and advanced social workers. 

“Both types of licenses require an applicant to have graduated from an accredited social work education program, have passed an approved examination, and [have] a supervised experience requirement,” Allison said. “The compact allows licensed social workers to practice across state lines in compact states under a compact privilege. A compact commission, made up of member states, is established to administer the compact.”

In order to participate in the compact, states must meet a number of requirements, Allison said. Some of those requirements include licensing and regulating the practice of social work at the clinical, master’s, or bachelor’s category; requiring passage of a national exam; and having a mechanism in place for investigating and adjudicating complaints about licensees. 

“To be eligible for a multi-state license under the compact, an applicant must meet a number of requirements, which include holding an unencumbered license in the home state, submitting fingerprints or biometric data for a criminal history record, and meeting any continuing competence requirements,” Allison said. 

Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) sponsors HB 1939. 

“There’s a lot of people who have been working on this issue at the national and state level. All of us have been impacted by mental health, but we’ve seen a lot of increases [in illness] since COVID. And we have a much higher percentage of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, but also our youth. With youth, the stats are telling us that over 50 percent do not have access to care. And that’s deeply troubling because we know we have a high suicide rate in our youth. And those numbers have gone up, especially for youth of color.”

— Orwall

HB 1939 is an attempt to make Washington’s workforce more robust, Orwall said. 

“And of course I’m partial to social workers; I’m a social worker,” Orwall said. “We want to make sure we’re streamlining a process. We want people to be able to come out of state and into our state and practice.”

Like SB 5815, HB 1939 would also be beneficial for military members. Tammie Perreault, Northwest Regional liaison for the Department of Defense, voiced her support for the bill.

“This is especially important to us because of its support for not only our military spouses—many of whom I know work as social workers and have to transfer their license from state to state—but also because it ensures continuity of care for military families as they move from state to state,” Perreault said. 

HB 1939 would complement the Military and Family Life Counseling Program, Perreault said. The program supports service members and their families with confidential non-medical counseling where they are stationed. Counselors deliver face-to-face, phone, and video counseling services through the program.

“It is a very large program that stretches to all of our services across the world, and approximately one-third of the folks that provide services in that program are social workers,” Perreault said. “So this is important to us. Those folks can quickly surge to any place in the world to support our military family members in a time of crisis, and this type of legislation makes it that much more easy.”

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