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Washington passes SB 5119, supporting loved ones of roadway workers

Bill provides state tuition exemption for dependents of killed, disabled roadway workers

A bill passed in Washington State will provide educational opportunities to the loved ones of highway workers killed or permanently disabled in roadway crashes.

SB 5119, signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee, includes the surviving children and spouses of highway workers employed by a general contractor and subcontractor that were killed or completely disabled on a roadway project in the state’s tuition exemption program. The state’s program allows eligible students to attend publicly funded community and technical colleges for free, within Washington.

Senator Guy Palumbo, chair of the Higher Education Committee, was the lead sponsor of the bill. According to Palumbo, the bill was a way to look out for roadway workers, who put their lives on the line each day to improve and maintain our roadways.

“The people who work on our road projects are doing a public service and taking a risk with their lives—whether they’re employees or contractors. They should all be able to know that if anything happens to them, our state will take care of their families. As we heard in testimony, this tuition waiver can make a dramatic difference in the lives of children whose parents don’t come home,” stated Palumbo.

The NW-ATSSA chapter supported the bill, advocating on the importance of roadway safety and supporting the loved ones of fallen roadway workers. According to Derek Behnke, NW-ATSSA chapter president, and sales manager for Zumar Industries, Inc., the chapter worked together on making phone calls and sending letters to legislators to express their support for the bill.

“It aligns with the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation’s (ATSS Foundation) goal to support the children of people who lost their lives in a work zone. Our local chapter leadership all got on the phone, and sent emails, and got our companies to support the bill as well. We let our legislators know how important it was to us,” Behnke said. “It’s extremely satisfying that this legislation has passed. We recently lost longtime ATSSA member Marty Weed, and one of our members mentioned ‘Boy is he smiling down today.’ It’s a victory for not only him but all of us.”

The bill is in line with the Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship, a program run by the ATSS Foundation. The program provides post-secondary education scholarships to the dependents of roadway workers killed in work zone crashes. The ATSS Foundation has also begun the Marty Weed Engineering Scholarship, which honors longtime ATSSA member Marty Weed, who passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. The scholarship covers registration costs for newer roadway safety engineers to attend ATSSA’s Annual Convention & Traffic Expo, to gain knowledge and learn best practices they can implement within their organizations.

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