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'Competitive Streak'  

Why Rep. Marcus Riccelli is one of the busiest young lawmakers in Olympia

click to enlarge Rep. Marcus Riccelli
  • Rep. Marcus Riccelli

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli has a cold, or at least he sounds like it. When he calls the Inlander on his drive back home from Olympia, he admits he's a little "clogged up."

Chalk it up to some well-earned exhaustion. Riccelli is a Democrat representing Spokane's South and North sides and downtown core, and less than three weeks into his second term, he has already dropped 13 policy bills — more than any other Spokane-based lawmaker.

"It's tough because there are a lot of mouths to feed here," says Rep. Timm Ormsby of Riccelli, his 3rd District colleague. "He's got a good competitive streak, which bodes well for our folks back home, the people in the 3rd District. You have to really want to get stuff done here that they need. Otherwise it might fall off."

Six of Riccelli's bills currently have hearings scheduled for this week. Those include:

House Bill 1559, which would revise a 1917 statute currently giving the University of Washington exclusive rights to teach medical education. More than 60 co-sponsors have signed on. Riccelli has been working closely with Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who's sponsoring the companion bill, to lay the groundwork for Washington State University to establish its own medical school in Spokane.

House Bill 1448, known as "Sheena's Law," which would allow law enforcement officers responding to threats or attempts of suicide to notify mental health professionals who can make involuntary treatment determinations. The bill was inspired by the death of Sheena Henderson, who was killed by her estranged husband, Chris Henderson, on July 8 last year at Rockwood Cancer Treatment Center before he turned the gun on himself. A day earlier, sheriff's deputies questioned Chris Henderson after a co-worker overheard him talking about ending his life. Deputies, however, determined he wasn't a serious threat. Riccelli, along with 3rd District lawmaker Sen. Andy Billig, has been consulting with Sheena's family over the past six months to draft legislation aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

House Bill 1365, a bill requiring universal autism and developmental delay screenings for all children covered by Washington's Medicaid program, and House Bill 1285, a measure mandating that hospitals screen for critical congenital heart disease in newborns, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In his first term, Riccelli sponsored successful legislation to reduce delay times for families waiting for newborn screening-test results. Like many of Riccelli's legislative priorities, the bill was inspired by his family: Thirty days after his daughter, Bryn, was born at Providence Sacred Heart in July 2013, the Riccellis were told that an abnormality appeared on her screening results and she would have to be retested. Luckily, it turned out she was fine.

Riccelli has also introduced measures to prohibit employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors; keep criminal informant testimony out of the courts; and fund school kitchen equipment for preparing healthier meals. As a new lawmaker and father, Riccelli says he naturally "gravitated" toward health care policy. For the second time, he was appointed vice chair for the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, a role that puts him in an influential position to promote his agenda.

"You want the best for your kids and that translates to kids in our whole community," he explains. "It just gives me a unique perspective, as a younger parent, than other legislators."

The 36-year-old lawmaker (and co-founder of the under-40 legislative caucus) was born and raised in Spokane. He attended Mead High School, graduated from Gonzaga University and received his Master of Public Administration from the University of Washington. Before running for office, Riccelli got his start in politics working for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and later, former Washington State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

"It's fun and gratifying to see Marcus being so effective as a relatively new legislator, but it's not surprising," says Brown, now chancellor of WSU Spokane. "He definitely understands that you've got to reach out and connect with people to move legislation forward, and he's shown that he's very energetic and good at doing that." ♦

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