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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Sen. Cleveland takes the reins as health panel chair, juggling meetings and legislation

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 25, 2024, 6:08am
2 Photos
State Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, from the 49th Legislative District, uses the time between committee meetings to talk with constituents, lobbyists and fellow lawmakers in her Olympia office Tuesday.
State Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, from the 49th Legislative District, uses the time between committee meetings to talk with constituents, lobbyists and fellow lawmakers in her Olympia office Tuesday. (Shari Phiel/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

OLYMPIA — For state Sen. Annette Cleveland, a typical day in session is a bit like playing Frogger — a mad dash across the hallway to get from one meeting to another, all while avoiding speeding lobbyists and lawmakers trying to get her attention. Her days often begin at 7 a.m. and don’t finish until 7 p.m. or later.

Cleveland, D-Vancouver, who leads the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, is the only Southwest Washington lawmaker serving as a committee chair this session. Fellow 49th District legislator Rep. Sharon Wylie co-chairs the House Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee.

Cleveland said the workload for a committee chair is a lot to take on. She said she counts on her staff to keep her on track.

“The workload is tremendous,” she said. “I have my wonderful intern and my session aide and my legislative aide.”

On Tuesday, Cleveland began the day chairing her committee’s meeting at 8 a.m. Later, she dashed to her office but was repeatedly stopped by lobbyists and other lawmakers looking to schedule time with her to discuss legislation.

Finally arriving in her office, Cleveland spent the rest of the morning meeting with health care stakeholders and lobbyists. In the afternoon, she met with the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and representatives of Clark County Fire District 6, among others.

What takes up more of her time? Committee meetings or one-on-one meetings with constituents and lobbyists?

“I would say it’s about 50-50,” Cleveland said.

It’s perhaps not a surprise that Cleveland is chairing the health care committee. Before being elected to the Legislature, Cleveland worked for Legacy Health for nearly 14 years focusing on community relations and government affairs. She also worked for the American Cancer Society in Oregon.

“My caucus asked me to chair health care. It wasn’t anything I had asked for,” she said.

She said the roles and responsibilities for a committee chair are notably different than they are for committee members.

“As chair, every single bill that comes to the committee, I am responsible for reading and understanding, identifying who the stakeholders are … reaching out to those stakeholders and starting to determine what are the concerns and can I address them in one session,” Cleveland explained.

She said once she’s answered those questions, she must consider whether the bill will have enough votes to pass.

“I have to count votes constantly, because I can’t bring a bill up that’s going to fail,” she said.

Cleveland is also ushering her own health care bills through the committee this session.

Senate Bill 5271 would expand Department of Health and Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission enforcement actions, if passed. Senate Bill 5481 defines when out-of-state health care providers can provide telemedicine services. Both are holdovers from the 2023 session that were reintroduced by Cleveland this session. Both bills have been placed with the rules committee.

Cleveland has also introduced several new bills this session, including Senate Bill 5982, which would update the definition of vaccines to include all federal Food and Drug Administration-approved immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More on health care

Other health care bills from Cleveland are Senate Bill 6101 to create a regulatory structure for licensed acute care hospitals to provide hospital at-home services; Senate Bill 6257, which establishes residency requirements to receive hospital charity care; and Senate Bill 6258, which phases in the requirement that only standardized health plans be offered on the health benefit exchange.

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Cleveland also has several bills this session not related to health care. On Tuesday, she testified before the Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee in support of Senate Bill 6150.

The bill will likely come as welcome news for counties struggling to meet the July 2025 deadline for updating their comprehensive growth management plans. The bill would extend the deadline for Clark, Clallam, Island, Jefferson, Lewis, Mason, San Juan, Skagit, Thurston and Whatcom counties by six months.

Cleveland said she expects the Legislature to support the bill because “there’s recognition of all the new requirements that we’ve added that need to be put in the comp plan.”