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Post-9/11 Veterans May be Eligible for Free Health Care Under PACT Act

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Post-9/11 Veterans May be Eligible
for Free Health Care Under PACT Act

The PACT Act is a new law that expands eligibility for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras. The open enrollment period for expanded VA health care began Oct. 1.

"This bill is among the most significant expansions of VA health care benefits in history, and demonstrates our nation's commitment to our veterans," Inslee said. "We're incredibly grateful to those in our congressional delegation who helped make this bill possible."

"Veterans and families in Washington state can be assured that our benefits specialists and our partners in numerous Veteran Service Organizations are ready to assist with claims preparation and filing," said WDVA Director Lourdes E. "Alfie" Alvarado-Ramos. "If you were exposed to burn pits or had other toxic exposures while on active duty, we want you to reach out so our network can help file your claim."

Minimum Wage Increases
to $15.74 Per Hour in 2023

The state minimum wage will increase by $1.25, or 8.66 percent, to $15.74 per hour in January 2023. Voters passed Initiative 688 in 1998 requiring yearly cost-of-living adjustments based on a consumer price index. The increase is directly linked to the rising cost of common goods like housing, food, and medical care. Voters approved Initiative 1433 in 2016 to set a new minimum wage of $13.50 by 2020.

Washington state's minimum wage will be the highest in the nation and double the national minimum of $7.25, which has not changed since 2009.

Unlike many other states, Washington's minimum wage law also applies to the agricultural workers who put food on Washington's tables.

Washington is one of the best states for workers, according to OxFam's annual Best States to Work Index. A long legacy of advocacy, workers' rights and benefits, paid leave, safety protections, freedom to organize, and fair pay contribute to Washington's stellar ranking. Full-time workers deserve a paycheck that at least covers life's necessities - Washington's responsive minimum wage gives low-wage workers a foothold. However, even $15.74 per hour may not provide a secure standard of living in many areas.

Detractors of a fair minimum wage claim that increased pay for the lowest-paid workers will drive inflation. On the contrary, studies show negligible inflationary effects and potent benefits including reduced family debt burden, stronger local economies, and improved employee morale and work ethic. Studies also show minimal effect on total employment. Just 0.5 percent of Washington workers earned the state minimum wage or less in 2017.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and a leading minimum wage strengthens Washington's powerful economy.

Pardons for Simple
Marijuana Possession

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he would pardon all prior federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana. The measure aligns with policies and actions already underway by Gov. Jay Inslee, legislators, and courts in Washington state.

"Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives - for conduct that is legal in many states. That's before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction," said Biden. "Today (Oct. 7), we begin to right these wrongs."

In Washington state, it has not been considered criminal behavior for adults to possess a small amount of marijuana for personal use since voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012.

Inslee launched the Marijuana Justice Initiative in 2019 that allows people with prior convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession to apply for a pardon.

Later that year, the Legislature would pass SB 5605, which allowed multiple charges to be vacated and allowed a broader jurisdictional variety of convictions to be vacated. The governor has also commuted the sentences of 740 people on probation or under community supervision under older, now-invalid state drug possession law that was overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court's so-called Blake decision.

"We still have an injustice that thousands of people have a criminal conviction on their records for something that is legal (Oct. 7)," said Inslee in 2019 as he announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative. "This is impairing their ability to reach their dreams, live their lives, and raise their children... A simple possession conviction 20 years ago should not be a life sentence."

Inslee's Marijuana Justice Initiative continues. People convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession may still file for their charges to be vacated on the governor's website.

Bold Actions in Order
to Fight Climate Crisis

Gov. Jay Inslee joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and British Columbia Premier John Horgan in San Francisco October 6 to double down on the regional climate commitments of the Pacific Coast Collaborative. Combined, the Pacific Coast region represents the fifth largest economy in the world, providing tremendous opportunity for state and local leaders to influence climate action globally.
The agreement signed this week includes several commitments to advance:

  • An equitable and just transition to a low carbon and climate resilient future, emphasizing investments in overburdened communities.
  • Climate infrastructure, such as EV charging stations, green ports, and a clean and reliable electric grid across the region.
  • Protecting communities and natural and working lands from wildfire, drought, heat waves, ocean acidification and flooding.

The Pacific Coast partners share ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at least 80 percent by 2050.

In recent years, Washington state has enacted ambitious climate policies to wane greenhouse gas emissions, including standards for 100 percent clean electricity, clean fuels, and reducing emissions from buildings. In 2022, Washington passed the Move Ahead Washington transportation package that invests a historic $6.2 billion over the next 16 years in clean transportation, including public transit and walking and biking infrastructure, with requirements for directing spending to overburdened communities. Next January, the state will launch its cap and invest program for capping and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the economy and investing in an equitable transition to clean energy and climate resilience.

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