Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This 60-day session is off to a busy start, and I am hard at work making sure your concerns are represented in the House. This is a supplemental budget year, which means our main task is making emergency appropriations and small adjustments to the two-year operating budget the Legislature passed last session.
However, there are several other agenda items on our plate as well.
Initiative 1366, passed by voters last November, was struck down as unconstitutional last month by King County Superior Court Judge William Downing. The initiative would decrease the sales tax rate by 1 percent unless the Legislature sent a constitutional amendment to voters requiring a supermajority vote to raise taxes. Washington voters have already approved several initiatives with such a requirement, but those initiatives were also ruled unconstitutional. House Republicans attempted to force a vote on House Joint Resolution 4215 to create a constitutional amendment, but the procedural move failed on a 48-49 party-line vote.
The latest on my legislation
Last week, the House unanimously passed House Bill 1855, my bill to waive local school district graduation requirements for at-risk youth. There is currently a waiver in place for military families, so my bill would extend such a waiver to homeless and foster youth as well. The high school dropout rate for homeless and foster youth in Washington state is above 30 percent — nearly three times higher than the average for all students. That is a tragedy.
The House also approved an amendment of mine to improve the nutritional standards of a Breakfast After the Bell program. House Bill 1295 would require most public schools in Washington state to offer school breakfast after the beginning of the school day, beginning in the 2017-18 school year. My amendment would require each food item served in the program to contain less than 25 percent by weight added sugar. The amount of refined sugar allowed under the bill was 35 percent before my amendment was adopted. As a mother and dentist, I want to make sure we're not providing junk food like Pop Tarts and doughnuts to schoolchildren. With my amendment included, House Bill 1295 was approved with a 69-28 vote. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
I have introduced several bills this session, most of which have bipartisan support.
House Bill 2501 would streamline communication between jail operators and mental health centers in order to provide the necessary medication for incarcerated mentally ill individuals. Specifically, a software system would be created to enable jail operators to notify mental health centers when mentally ill patients are incarcerated. This would provide for efficient coordination to quickly get patients the medication they need. Washington state has a broken mental health care system, so this is one practical reform that would move us a step forward in taking mental health care seriously as a state. The bill received a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on Jan. 27, and is scheduled for an executive session this Friday.
House Bill 2429 would require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide test results by June 15. This would allow students to take remedial courses over the summer, if necessary, and enable teachers and counselors to place students in courses appropriate for them. For more on the bill, please watch this video update I recently recorded with two counselors and a teacher from South Kitsap High School.
I introduced House Bill 2500 after a local news story touched my heart. Last year, I heard the story of Runaway Ray, a partially blind Shetland pony found wandering the Key Peninsula by a local resident. Due to state rules governing stray livestock, that resident was not allowed to keep Ray. Instead, he was boarded – while the county searched for his rightful owner – and eventually auctioned off. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, as the resident attended that auction and placed the winning bid to claim Ray. However, the entire ordeal cost the county thousands of dollars and was not in the best interest of Ray or the community. House Bill 2500 would provide an opportunity for people to purchase animals like Ray and not require them to be auctioned off. It would also help ensure these animals go to loving homes by putting several common-sense stipulations in place. This is a small reform to how state government operates, but it's the right thing to do. For more on the story of Runaway Ray, you can read this article in The Seattle Times from this past Friday.
Other bills I've introduced are:
House Bill 2499 to advocate for fair insurance practices.
House Bill 1525 to allow for an innovative packaging design by a local brewery.
House Bill 2498 to remove the prior authorization process on many dental procedures billed to Medicaid.
I was proud to receive accolades this interim from the nonpartisan Seattle CityClub for my efforts in working across the aisle during the 2015 session. There is so much good we can do when we work together instead of letting partisan differences get in the way. One such example of this is House Bill 2396, which I co-sponsored and recently testified on. The bill would authorize school nurses, counselors, and homeless student liaisons to provide consent for homeless, unaccompanied youth to receive nonemergency, outpatient, primary care services. Below is a photo of myself and prime sponsor Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, testifying on the bill.
Telephone town hall this Thursday!
Just as I did last session, I'll be holding a telephone town hall meeting this Thursday, Feb. 4. The hour-long conversation will begin at 6 p.m. and cover an array of topics. If you're interested in listening in or asking a question, you can call (253) 244-3373 anytime from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the 4th. I enjoy these telephone town halls very much, and hope you'll call in with your questions and thoughts about how we can improve state government.
If you cannot call in, please know you can contact me anytime at (360) 786-7802 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My door is always open to hear what you think and to answer your questions.
It's an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.