Walsh bills clear Legislature: Page scholarships, vocational training, inmate education

Page-scholarship program honors memory of Gina Grant Bull

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers this week gave final approval to three bills sponsored by Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, launching a legislative-page scholarship program, expanding vocational-training opportunities for welfare recipients, and authorizing 2-year associate-degree programs for inmates at Washington prisons.

The bills now head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Page scholarships: Senate Bill 5346, approved by the Senate Thursday 44-0 following amendments in the House, creates a legislative-page scholarship in memory of Gina Grant Bull. The Walla Walla native, daughter of the late state Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, spent much of her career in the Legislature, and was page supervisor in the state House when she died last fall at age 57.

The bill creates the Gina Grant Bull Memorial Legislative Page Scholarship Program, to provide financial assistance for Washington students who participate in the House and Senate page programs. The page programs allow students, age 14 through 16, to spend a week working in the Legislature. The scholarship program, to be funded with private donations, will provide assistance with temporary housing, uniforms and other needs.

“Gina was a loved and respected member of the legislative family, and she was working on this idea when she died,” Walsh explained. “She wanted to enable students from all walks of life to participate in the page program. This is especially important for students from Eastern Washington, who face additional expenses getting to and from Olympia. I can think of no better tribute to Gina than this scholarship program that bears her name.”

Vocational training: Senate Bill 5347, approved by the House this week 93-6, gives welfare recipients two years to complete vocational-training programs – making it more likely they will complete their training and find jobs in their career fields.

Under current law, people who receive benefits through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as WorkFirst, may receive up to 12 months’ vocational training before job-search requirements kick in. At that point they must spend 30 hours a week looking for work. Fewer than 16 percent of participants complete their certificates or degrees before time runs out. The Walsh bill extends the vocational-training window to two years.

“This bill will help our state’s welfare recipients put their lives on the right track, and allow them to obtain the skills they need to become self-sufficient,” Walsh said.

Inmate education: Senate Bill 5069, approved by the House this week 78-20, provides education opportunities for prison inmates, by allowing community and technical colleges to expand two-year degree programs in Washington prisons.

The bill expands existing basic-education and job training programs at the state’s 12 adult prisons, which emphasize literacy and job skills. The measure authorizes the Department of Corrections to partner with community and technical colleges to develop more-specialized associate degree programs. Those serving sentences of life without parole, or who are on death row, are ineligible. The bill creates no additional cost for the state, but allows for private donations and inmate contributions.

“We have to remember that the vast majority of prisoners eventually will return to our communities,” Walsh said. “Studies show that for every dollar invested in inmate education, we see a return of more than $18, in reduced repeat offenses and jail time. This bill will help our prison inmates find family-wage jobs upon release and empower them to improve themselves.”