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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 26 April 2006

OLYMPIA, WA—Gov. Chris Gregoire, already deep into a two-year overhaul of education, says the next big challenge is health care.

The governor said she will work with a bipartisan group of legislators, businesses, insurance carriers and others to come up with at least some initial answers by December.

"It's about access, it's about affordability and it's about quality," Gregoire said Monday.

The governor also talked about foreign trade, immigration and a proposed property rights initiative at her weekly news conference.

She said Mexico President Vicente Fox may visit the state next month. China President Hu Jintao was in Washington last week, and Gregoire leaves soon for a trade mission to Australia and New Zealand, with an Asian trip to Korea and Taiwan scheduled for the fall.

The governor said she is working closely with a new commission created by the Legislature to deal with the 600,000 state residents without health insurance and the large number without adequate coverage for the whole family.

Gregoire said she doesn't have any preconceived ideas about proposals for the 2007 legislative session and said at one point that the problem cries out for a national solution. But she said the complexity and cost are no excuse for sitting on the sidelines.

"We can't nibble around the edges here," she said. "We've got to be more aggressive. ... I've made it clear to the legislative leadership that we've got to grapple with this."

Gregoire said American businesses will have trouble competing in the global marketplace if their health care costs continue to escalate. Even with health care gobbling up such a huge share of the economy, far too many people have no coverage, she said.

"Whether Massachusetts has it right (with near-universal coverage) remains an open question," and Washington will continue to look at a labor-backed "Fair Share" program that requires Wal-Mart and other large employers to cover their employees or pay into a state fund, she said.

The governor and legislative Democrats have an informal goal of covering all children by 2010. Gregoire said she didn't know if the Legislature would adopt a timeline for covering all or most of the state's uninsured.

The state already covers 1.1 million of its 6 million residents through a variety of programs, including a subsidized health care program for the working poor.

On other subjects, Gregoire:

• Predicted that Washington's international trade will expand into newly developing "brain power" services like environmental mitigation, biofuel production and the life sciences. Currently, most of the state's exports are jetliners, software, farm products, logs and lumber and other commodities.

• Urged Congress to adopt an immigration policy that stresses border security, yet allows current undocumented workers to work their way toward citizenship. A guest-worker program is vital to cherry orchardists and others, she said.

• Announced a quick lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with the energy secretary and key legislators to pressure Congress and the White House to support stronger financial support for cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

• Announced her opposition to a proposed initiative to require compensation for "taking" of property rights by government zoning or land-use decisions. A similar measure in Oregon has led to massive litigation, she said after a Friday meeting with Oregon Gov.Ted Kulongoski.

"I am very troubled. I don't believe this is the way you address these issues. It's like medical malpractice. It is a complex area you shouldn't take through the initiative process. ... I am opposed to the initiative."

Gregoire said she's committed to working with the Farm Bureau and others to retool the state's growth-management law to help the rural areas.

— The Associated Press

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