Elder Law Section: Engagement in the Legislative Process
What does elder law have to do with the legislative process? More than you might think. Elder law encompasses many areas, including estate and disability planning, trusts, guardianships, probate, healthcare, long-term care planning, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and retirement issues. The WSBA Elder Law Section‘s elected Executive Committee is active in legislation; in fact, legislation is one of the most time-consuming and significant aspects of our work.
Our Executive Committee believes it is important to review and, where appropriate, comment on legislation that may impact our areas of law. However, it can be challenging to keep up with the fast pace of the Legislature. Here’s how our Section handles it:
- Two Legislative Committee co-chairs are responsible for overseeing our process of reviewing and responding to proposed legislation.
- When the WSBA refers a bill to the Elder Law Section, the co-chairs briefly review it and then send it out to a pre-arranged list of attorneys — both on our Executive Committee and off — who have agreed to quickly vet and comment on whether the bill is one that pertains to the practice of law or the administration of justice (that is, it meets the requirements of GR 12.1) and whether we should respond in some way. These “vetters” are organized by area of law.
- If a vetter feels a response is necessary, he or she either writes a note to the co-chairs or drafts a letter that can be sent to the Legislature. (Although, to be honest, one of the co-chairs usually ends up writing the letter.) The note or letter is circulated to the Executive Committee and an email vote is taken. At least 75% of the Executive Committee must agree that the issue relates to or affects the practice of elder law, and at least 75% of the Executive Committee must agree on any position taken on the bill.
- If a position is taken, we send key legislators a letter either in support of or in opposition to the bill (unless the position is “neutral”). Often, one of the co-chairs goes to Olympia to testify at the hearing.
The same Section members have been traveling to Olympia for the past few years in order to create continuity with legislators and partisan and nonpartisan staff. The Elder Law Section’s goal is to be an honest broker by educating and informing legislators and staff about the effects that proposed legislation may have in real life. We often work with legislators and staff to make changes to legislation that will make it more effective.
The Elder Law Section has also worked with WSBA’s Legislative Affairs Liaison in recent years to have “bar-sponsored” legislation introduced and passed. For example, we were heavily involved in the passage of legislation and establishment of the Office of Public Guardianship. Also, in 2011, based on recommendations of the Elder Law Guardianship Task Force, the Section obtained Bar-sponsored legislation to amend the guardianship statutes (SHB 1053).
Working on legislation can be exhausting, but very rewarding! To learn more about the Elder Law Section and how you can join, see the Elder Law Section page. To learn more about the WSBA’s role in legislative affairs, see the WSBA Legislative Affairs page.
The Elder Law Section offers opportunities for education and consultation on issues relevant to elder law practice. Occasional seminars are complemented by the Section’s active list serve — an ongoing conversation among members, responding to questions and sharing insights. The Section also offers opportunities for serious exploration of systemic problems identified by members and for policy advocacy on issues relating to the administration of justice.