Governor signs Rep. Norm Johnson’s ‘Bickleton School’ measure and public hospital contracting bill

Legislation authored by Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, that would allow the Bickleton School District to retain a four-day class week and give public hospitals the ability to participate in job order contracting received the governor’s signature this week. A third measure Johnson supported that requires visual screening in schools also was signed into law.

House Bill 2476 authorizes the Washington State Board of Education to continue granting waivers to school districts from the 180-day minimum school year requirement. That authority and waivers had been set to expire Aug. 31, 2017.

Johnson said the authority was originally given in 2009 by the Legislature from a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Dan Newhouse.

“Some of our small, remote school districts are larger geographically than some states. They told Representative Newhouse of the hardship of building into their week transportation for sports games and other extracurricular activities that are located outside of their school districts. It often takes much of the day for buses to travel outside of the boundaries to other districts for activities,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the legislation primarily affects the Bickleton and Paterson School Districts. Bickleton is located 37 miles northeast of Goldendale in Klickitat County. Paterson is along the Columbia River in Benton County.

“They were seeking a school calendar that would be flexible to meet the needs of the district and their students. Their plan was to increase the school hours by an hour-and-a-half each day, Monday through Thursday, and then use Friday for travel to activities outside of the districts. By adding that extra hour-and-a-half to the school day, they were still attaining the same hours as the 180-day requirement,” added Johnson. “The Legislature passed Representative Newhouse’s legislation in 2009, but that authority was set to expire next year. My legislation allows it to continue without expiration.”

Johnson said the waiver program has been very successful.

“So far, this law has saved the Bickleton School District about $40,000 in transportation costs. Besides the sports programs, Fridays are also used for professional development. Absenteeism is down and the flexible schedule has worked well for students and teachers,” noted Johnson.

Bickleton School Superintendent/Principal Ric Palmer and his wife, Darla, attended the signing ceremony Thursday.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a second Johnson bill. House Bill 2772 allows public hospital districts with revenues exceeding $15 million to participate in job order contracting.

“A job order contract allows public entities to contract for small public works projects to repair and renovate public facilities without going through all the bidding requirements of most public works projects. The state limits that ability to certain public entities, however, to this point, public hospitals have been excluded. This bill adds public hospitals to that list,” said Johnson.

“This legislation will help our public hospitals to lower overhead costs, reduce change orders, provide for simplified design documentation, and facilitate more timely project completion,” he added. “When public hospitals save money, consumers and taxpayers benefit.”

Johnson also praised the signing today (Friday) of Senate Bill 6245, which requires distance and near-vision screening of students in every school district.

“Vision problems account for illiteracy in 25 percent of our students. A near-vision screening test of students in early grades will help catch these problems so that we can reduce illiteracy,” said Johnson, “I want to thank visual care specialist Dr. Ben Winters of Yakima for coming to Olympia and testifying about the importance of this policy. This legislation will help thousands of Washington children.”

The regular session finished March 10, but lawmakers completed their work Tuesday on the 19th day of a special session, after passing supplemental operating and capital budgets.

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PHOTO: On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2476, authored by Rep. Norm Johnson. The measure removes the expiration date for waivers of the 180-day school requirement, giving small school districts, such as Bickleton, the ability to have flexible days/hours. From left:  Darla Palmer; Bickleton School Superintendent/Principal Ric Palmer; Rep. Tom Dent and Sen. Judy Warnick, both R-Moses Lake; Gov. Jay Inslee (seated); and Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima.

Rep. Norm Johnson during signing of the 'Bickleton School' bill extending flexible school hours/days

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