- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A nearly-century old restriction giving the University of Washington in Seattle the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington was removed by the Legislature on Wednesday, opening the door for a new Washington State University medical school in Spokane.

Senators approved House Bill 1559 on a 47-1 vote and the measure now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature. The Senate had previously passed an identical version earlier this month, but took its final vote on the House version of the bill.

Sen. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor who is chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said that the bill was an important step to increase the number of medical students in the state. She noted that the state needs more medical providers and that the measure was “a great start in answering that shortage.”

By adding WSU as a school that is authorized to establish, operate, and maintain a school of medicine, the bill eliminates a restriction dating from 1917 that gives the University of Washington the exclusive right to do so. The UW medical school admits only 120 Washington medical students each year, though it also currently trains additional medical students in Spokane through a multistate program it runs.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli of Spokane, said that the state is giving more local students the opportunity to stay in state to continue their education.

“A new generation of doctors will engage in cutting-edge community-based training to ensure Washington patients get the care they deserve,” he said in a statement in which he thanked Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, who was the Senate sponsor of the measure.

The bill doesn’t appropriate any state money to a new school, but lawmakers are in the process of crafting budget proposals for the next two-year state budget.

WSU is estimating it would cost $2.5 million to pursue accreditation for the medical school. If a school is ultimately established, they estimate they would need $60,000 in state funds per student each year.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat from Seattle, was the lone ‘no’ vote.

He said he had concerns about the amount of money that the school would cost the state, and suggested there were less expensive ways to address physician shortage issues, such as expanding the current multistate program that UW runs, or a loan repayment program.

“We have better ways of spending that money that would more quickly deliver more doctors to the areas that actually need them,” Pedersen said after the vote.

After the vote, WSU President Elson Floyd met with lawmakers in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, where he thanked them “for your confidence and your trust in Washington State University.”

“There is no doubt that today is a historic event,” he said. “We will make a difference in the delivery, the quality, the affordability and access for health care for Washingtonians. That is our highest priority.”

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