This article first appeared February 21, 2020 in the Seattle Medium.

OLYMPIA – Since being sworn-in less than six weeks ago, Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, has prioritized legislation to address issues that are impacted by homelessness, the foster care system, addressing youth violence and early intervention, and expanding dental care for babies and children. Those priorities passed the House before the crucial “cutoff” deadline, when all bills must move forward to be considered by the Senate.

“Families all over Washington are calling for our help. From the juvenile justice system to how education is delivered, we need to do what is right when it is needed,” said Johnson. “I am happy that, through passage of my bills, we are looking at how to deliver services more compassionately and equitably to all of our families.”

Johnson made at-risk youth a priority because of his connection with the Federal Way community, first as a student in local schools and later as a City Council member and Youth Advocate. He introduced HB 2873, which allows families and youth to request a tool called Family Reconciliation Services (FRS). FRS is used by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to provide services to families or children who are struggling and in conflict. Johnson’s legislation will expand access to those services, like suicide prevention, psychiatric or other medical care, mental health or drug or alcohol treatment, and training in parenting conflict management and dispute resolution. HB 2873 passed the House 94-3.

“We must address problems before they escalate and prevent some of our most vulnerable community members from further trauma.  We can do just that with this bill,” said Johnson.

Two other bills that passed the House were HB 2711 and HB 2811. HB 2711 helps the Legislature look at problems facing homeless and foster youth. The bill requires recommendations for how to improve outcomes for students who are homeless or in the foster care system, who have lower passing rates in Math and English literacy and higher truancy rates.

HB 2811 was the first bill passed by Johnson this year and will develop a high school curriculum on global and local environment, real-world environmental science, and opportunities for renewable natural resource careers.

Another priority for Johnson is the oral health outcomes for children and babies. The number one chronic disease affecting children is cavities and Johnson introduced HB 2905 to help expand the ABCD program, which is a proven and cost-effective way to provide dental care to children. HB 2905 will help support local ABCD programs and providers as well as direct the Health Care Authority to look at how to increase outreach. HB 2905 passed the House unanimously.

The bills next head to the Senate for its consideration.