In the 2019 Legislative Session, the Washington Military Department had a number of legislative priorities. It saw success with several of its priorities, but there were a couple of bills that impact emergency management that didn’t make the finish line and will carry over into next session.
One of these priorities is the National Guard tuition assistance bill (SB 5197 and HB 1201) which ended up dying in the House Appropriations Committee. While the State ultimately provided the Military Department with $1.2 M in the Operating Budget, the cost to run this program is much greater, at approximately $3M. The Washington National Guard is struggling to recruit and retain members, which threatens its ability to assist communities following a disaster. In fact, it has its lowest numbers since the draft ended, due in part to a strong economy. The Military Department foresees many more deployments in the next couple of years as wildfires, floods, and other disasters become more frequent and more severe.
However, the National Guard finds it hard to compete with 36 other states and territories, including Oregon and Idaho, that offer Guardsmen up to 100 percent tuition assistance as an incentive to join. Additionally, the National Guard is finding itself competing with private sector companies that also offer tuition assistance to employees. If this bill passes it will provide higher education tuition assistance and increase college access for our state’s soldiers and airmen, while at the same time ensuring our state’s employers have access to an educated, skilled workforce.
The other priority that will carry over into next session is SB 5247 and HB 1200 which deals with catastrophic preparedness in public schools. The Military Department believes that the state is overdue for a catastrophic level disaster such as a CSZ Subduction Zone earthquake. This bill requires the Military Department to provide a dedicated capability to work directly with schools to improve the development, planning, and exercising of catastrophic preparedness and emergency response plans, specifically focused on seismic safety. The Emergency Management Department is incredibly small. Even with all the federal and state programs, there is not currently enough capacity or strength to work on this level of detailed planning. Therefore, the funding would support 4 FTEs that would be charged with direct planning engagement with school districts in partnership with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
As previously mentioned, the Military Department saw success with several of its 2019 priorities, including: (1) an increase in National Guard Wildfire State Active Duty pay ($750 K and HB 1137 and SB 5196); (2) funding for E911 account ($9.975 M); (3) funding for public alert and warning systems ($1 M for Earthquake Early Warning and $1M for all-hazard alert broadcast sirens); and (4) two years of funding for the hazardous materials planning program ($1.040 M).