Care worker initiative resurrected

Voters approved similar effort in '08 that was not funded



OLYMPIA— Voters may get a second chance this November to require background checks and increased training for workers who care for seniors and people with disabilities.

Initiative 1163 sponsors submitted more than 340,000 signatures to the Secretary of State on Friday to land their long-term care measure on the November ballot.

The measure calls for home care and assisted-living workers who provide long-term care to seniors or people with disabilities to undergo 75 hours of training and obtain certification before starting their jobs. Currently, they need 34 hours of training and certification is merely optional.

The proposed law is essentially identical to Initiative 1029, which received a landslide 72-percent approval vote in 2008, but was not funded or implemented by state legislators.

“It’s unfortunate, but in this instance, the Legislature seems to be ignoring the will of the voters on what is an important issue,” said Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman for the Initiative 1163 campaign.

Reports of abuse in homes with care workers have increased more than 15 percent since voters adopted Initiative 1029 nearly three years ago, Kaushik said. “We see these requirements as basic, common-sense protections for our vulnerable seniors.”

Vancouver resident Von Cunningham — whose work assisting elderly and disabled people dates back to the Vietnam War — said he supports the initiative because of the abuse and inadequate training he has witnessed over his career.

“I really believe that people should be background-checked, because I’ve seen horrors in facilities,” he said. He hopes stricter regulations will root out problems if the initiative wins over enough voters.

As of yet, no official opposition campaign to this year’s initiative has registered with the Public Disclosure Commission, but the Community Care Coalition of Washington opposed Initiative 1029. The coalition argued that increased training requirements and background checks were unnecessary and that the new policies were too expensive for taxpayers at a time of steep budget shortfalls.

More money raised

Backing for Initiative 1163 comes from the Service Employees International Union, which also sponsored Initiative 1029. With a $1.36 million funding arsenal, far more money has been raised for Initiative 1163 than its 2008 predecessor or any other potential ballot measure this year.

Sponsors spent $241,165 on its signature gatherers, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

The initiative needs 241,153 registered-voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Initiative sponsors usually set out to gather 320,000 or more signatures to ensure they have enough, said David Ammons, the communications director for Secretary of State Sam Reed.

Signature counting will begin on July 18, Ammons said. It will take about four or five days to conduct a random sample to verify whether there are enough registered voter signatures for the initiative. Full signature checks can take several weeks.

“We’re highly confident that we have more than enough to qualify,” Kaushik said.