Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's an honor to serve you in the state House. As we wrap up the third week of the 2017 legislative session, I wanted to provide you with an update on the session, the committees I'm serving on, as well as some of the bills I've introduced.
As I mentioned in my last email to you, the Legislature is responsible for developing a two-year operating budget, as well as capital and transportation budgets during odd-numbered years. This is considered a long session, and is scheduled to run 105 consecutive days. It is my sincere hope we finish our work on time, but since there will be competing proposals to solve the final piece of the McCleary puzzle, we could indeed be facing multiple special sessions this year.
One proposal to solve McCleary is already on the table. Back in December, Gov. Inslee proposed a multi-billion dollar tax package, with revenue coming from three primary sources: a new carbon tax, a new capital gains tax, and an increase in the state's business and occupation (B&O) tax on services. We have yet to see the budget proposals from the majority parties in the House and Senate, but Washingtonians have made it clear over and over again that they do not have an appetite for massive new tax increases. Instead, they want us to be good stewards of their tax dollars, wisely allocating these funds to make state government work better and more efficiently for them.
Currently, we're spending approximately $13,000 per student per year. We've increased spending by nearly $5 billion on K-12 education since 2012, and 48 percent of the operating budget is now dedicated to it. The final step we must now take is developing a comprehensive solution that adequately and equitably addresses the educational needs of all children in Washington state, regardless of ZIP code.
Committees I'm serving on
This session, I am serving on three committees – Appropriations, Education, and Health Care & Wellness. The House Appropriations Committee is a new assignment for me, and one I'm incredibly excited about. The committee considers the operating budget bill, budget processes, and a variety of fiscal issues, such as pension policy and compensation. In addition to this assignment, I continue to sit on the House Education Committee, which considers all policies relating to K-12 education, and the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, which considers issues such as physical and behavioral health care services, long-term care and strategies to promote better health.
Bills I've introduced this session
As you may have seen in the Kitsap Sun earlier this week, I have introduced a bill (House Bill 1443) that would require the Washington State Department of Transportation to convert at least two of the toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to unstaffed toll booths that exclusively accept credit cards for payment. The goal of this bill, which is scheduled for a public hearing Feb. 2 in the House Transportation Committee, is to reduce operating costs and save taxpayer dollars.
Another bill I've introduced is House Bill 1444, which would: (1) require school districts to facilitate on-time grade level progression and graduation for at-risk youth and homeless children; (2) allow school districts to enroll a high school student who changes their residence mid-term in online courses for the remainder of the academic term; and (3) waive local graduation requirements and ensure students who've attended three or more high schools and met state graduation requirements receive a diploma. House Bill 1444 has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Education Committee on Jan. 31.
Also in the House Education Committee is House Bill 1664, which would require the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) to waive, in certain instances, the requirement that certain pre-service candidates successfully pass the evidence-based assessment of teaching effectiveness (edTPA).
Last year, I drafted legislation to change state law surrounding the governance of stray livestock. The bill passed the House 96-1, but died in the Senate. You may remember the story of Runaway Ray (full backstory here), a partially blind Shetland pony found wandering the Key Peninsula by a local resident. Due to existing state rules governing stray livestock, the resident was not allowed to keep Ray, and Pierce County taxpayers had to spend $2,880 to board him while the county searched for his owner. After the owner could not be found, Ray was put up for auction, and the local resident had to place a winning bid of $625 to get him back. This process is as laborious, cruel and unnecessary this year as it was last year, which is why I've again introduced legislation. House Bill 1315 would provide an opportunity for families to purchase stray livestock instead of requiring counties to auction the animal(s) off. The bill had a public hearing in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 24, and is scheduled for an executive session on Jan. 31.
House Bill 1448 would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for pregnancy-related or childbirth-related health conditions. The bill would provide clear and concise standards on what “reasonable accommodations” are for the worker and would provide employers some flexibility as well. This aligns with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Overall, this bill would provide a reasonable and balanced approach to this issue for both the employee and the employer. It currently awaits a hearing in the Labor & Workplace Standards Committee.
In addition to the above bills, I'm also working on the language for a bill that would reduce health care premiums for the dependents of teachers in order to make it less expensive for teachers to add them to their health care plan.
Reverend Susie Beil and her son Jonathan come to Olympia
Reverend Susie Beil of Summit Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bremerton traveled to Olympia Thursday to deliver the invocation before floor action commenced. Afterward, her and her son, Jonathan, visited our caucus room to meet with us. Thank you, Reverend Beil and Jonathan!
If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about the session, legislation or anything else, please feel free to contact me by phone at (360) 786-7802 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's an honor to serve you in the state House of Representatives.