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In the News

Senate OKs bill paving way for WSU medical school in Spokane

final vote in senate

The state Senate approved the WSU medical school bill on March 10th, just 12 hours after the House of Representatives approved its own version. Senate Bill 5487 was approved 45-4. House Bill 1559 was approved last night, March 9th on a vote of 81-17. The bills are identical and one of them must be approved by the opposite chamber to be sent to the governor’s office. Both bills seek to amend a nearly 100-year-old statute to allow WSU to pursue medicine as an academic discipline.

Jim Camden – The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA — The morning after the House, the Senate passed an identical bill to give Washington State University the authority, although not the money, to start a new medical school in Spokane.

On a 45-4 vote, the Senate passed legislation with the identical language that cleared the House on an 81-17 vote Monday night and all but guaranteed it will become law.

The two chambers now must decide which version to move to a final vote. Both would repeal of a 1917 law that gives the University of Washington sole authority to operate a state-sponsored medical school but offer no money for that new facility.

Supporters emphasized the state’s need for more doctors, and downplayed the recent competition between the two universities over expanded medical education in Spokane.

“This shouldn’t become the Apple Cup of medical education,” Sen. Mike Baumgartner, the Spokane Republican who is the bill’s prime sponsor. “This is really a choice for more doctors.”

The proposal is the most bipartisan issue, with the most statewide support, that he has seen in his five years in the Senate, Baumgartner said.

“I want to be clear that this is not about either-or. This is about and-both,” Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said.

Other supporters said they want to make sure that the UW medical school program — which today was named the best in the country for training primary care, rural medicine and family practice doctors by U.S. News & World Reports — is not harmed by a new WSU medical school. WWAMI, as the five-state medical training program is known, will need more money in the 2013-15 budget to continue training 40 students a year in Spokane, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

“In the budget, that is where the heavy lift will be,” Frockt said.

Supporters and opponents of the House version had similar comments Monday night, and the No votes included key committee chairman for that chamber’s tax and budget panels.

WSU is asking for $2.5 million to hire faculty and seek accreditation in that budget. But down the road, a new medical school that admits 120 students a year could cost taxpayers an additional $40 million a year for the state’s share of those students’ education.

Sen. Jaime Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat who has most of the UW campus in his district, said he had to “interrupt the love fest” on the bill, to say the best way to get more doctors was not building a brand new medical school that won’t turn out a fully trained doctor until sometime in the next decade.

A more effective way to spend the state’s money would be to increase the money available to help repay loans for new doctors practicing in needed areas, expand the number of residency programs in the state where medical school graduates get their advanced training, and “if we had the money to spend… we certainly have the ability to scale up the UW medical school.”

The bill also would abolish UW’s monopoly on the forestry major, another remnant of a 1917 decision to divide up major lines of study to stop competition between the two schools at that time.

“We can have Cougars be foresters as well as Dawgs,” Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said.

Sponsors will now determine the easiest way to get final passage of one version of the bill.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, the prime sponsor of the House bill who watched the Senate vote from the wings, said that detail didn’t matter: “Whichever gets to the governor’s desk is fine by me.”

Baumgartner said it might be quickest to move the House version quickly through Senate committees and onto to that chamber’s floor for a final vote.

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