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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session is under way, and things are already moving quickly. This is a supplemental budget year, which means our task is addressing emergency appropriations and other small adjustments to the two-year operating budget we passed last session.
There are a number of big issues to tackle due to two rulings from the state Supreme Court during the summer.
First, the Court ruled the Legislature had not adequately funded education during the 2015 legislation session. As a result, they imposed a $100,000 a day fine on the state. Here are the facts on K-12 education funding:
- The Legislature has made historic progress over the last three years, increasing K-12 education spending, shrinking K-3 class sizes, and providing teachers with cost of living increases;
- Since 2012, the Legislature has increased school funding by $4.5 billion, or 32 percent; and
- 48 percent of the operating budget now goes to funding K-12 education – the largest percentage in 30 years.
A bipartisan, bicameral group has been working to come up with a solution to satisfy the Court's 2018 requirements as laid out in the McCleary case. However, I think it's hard to argue we haven't made great steps toward making education our paramount duty in recent years.
In a 6-3 vote, the state Supreme Court also ruled voter-approved charter schools unconstitutional. I could not disagree more with their decision, and am dismayed for parents who have been relying on the public charter school system to educate their children. The good news is there is bipartisan support for a legislative solution that would save charter schools in Washington state. I've co-sponsored two pieces of legislation to do just that, House Bill 2367 and another bill I will introduce this week. I will keep you posted on its progress as we fight to make sure school choice is respected.
Bills I'm working on
Helping young people get a college degree is something I care deeply about, so I have introduced legislation that would increase the number of State Need Grant (SNG) recipients at no additional cost to the state. My bill, House Bill 2301, would restructure the current grant program to award only the community and technical college rate for a student's first two years of postsecondary credit. I believe this change would encourage grant-eligible students to complete their first two years of postsecondary education at a community or technical college before completing their degree at a more expensive four-year institution. Grant money saved during those first two years would be used by the state to fund SNGs for thousands of eligible students whose grants are currently unfunded.
Every day, families make the prudent economic choice to send their kids to a community college for their first two years. It only makes sense for state government to be as economically thrifty with its tax dollars. By increasing the number of grant recipients by the thousands, we will have more students graduating from college with less debt at no additional cost to the state. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing and executive session this week in the House Higher Education Committee.
Another bill I'm working on would bring reform to the state's foster care system. Currently, many foster parents don't feel like they're treated as valuable teammates in the system because they're not being properly notified of court cases and/or hearings regarding their foster children. My bill, House Bill 2591, would address that and require timely notice by DSHS or the supervising agency to a child's foster parents of their right to be heard in court or at a hearing. This should be happening under current law, but my bill ensures courts verify foster parents are receiving adequate and timely notice.
I discuss these bills in greater depth in my most recent video update. Take a look!
I-1366 ruled unconstitutional by King County judge
Last week, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled I-1366 unconstitutional. The initiative, which was passed by voters last November, would decrease the sales tax rate by 1 percent unless the Legislature sent a constitutional amendment to voters that would require a supermajority vote for tax increases. I am in support of putting such an amendment on the ballot, and have co-sponsored multiple pieces of legislation to do so.
Some thoughts on various gun rights legislation
There are several bills dealing with gun rights this session. I want you to know that while I am committed to preserving public firearm safety, I am also committed to protecting responsible gun ownership and the rights of gun owners. New gun legislation that's intended to impede criminals often has little impact because criminals, by their very nature, do not obey laws.
It is important to be factual when discussing this issue, and to not simply introduce legislation that will do more to harm responsible gun owners than to stop criminals. For example, the chart below shows the number of gun deaths has dropped significantly since 1993, and gun deaths by suicide exceeds those by homicide.
The Human Rights Commission oversteps its bounds
I was appalled by a recent rule passed by the five-member, unelected Human Rights Commission to permit anyone, male or female, to use the restroom and locker room of their choice. The commission considered the rights of the transgender community as more important than the rights of a vast majority of Washingtonians, which was wrong.
I have co-sponsored House Bill 2589, which says, “Nothing in the law shall prohibit a public or private entity from limiting access to a private facility segregated by gender, such as a bathroom, restroom, toilet, shower, locker room, or sauna, to a person if the person is preoperative, non-operative, or otherwise has genitalia of a different gender from that for which the facility is segregated.”
I am certain the vast majority of Washingtonians support such a common-sense solution to this issue. However, the chair of the committee where the bill would be heard has said she will not give the bill a hearing. That is unfortunate. A five-member, unelected state agency overstepped its rulemaking power, and the rule should either be amended or repealed altogether.
Of course, the longer-term solution is to elect legislators and a governor who will not allow such inane policies in Washington state.
The I-405 tolling problem
As the assistant ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, I have consistently opposed the tolling scheme on I-405. I have co-sponsored House Bill 2312, which would:
- Remove one of the two toll lanes, returning it to general purpose between SR 520 and SR 522;
- Remove the double white lines and filter lanes; and
- Open up toll lanes to all traffic for free between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., and on state holidays
I am working hard to help get this legislation passed this session. However, the chair of the committee supports this tolling scheme and is supported by the Democratic majority in the House, so any changes may be difficult to pass.
Please continue to get in touch with me with any comments, questions or concerns you have. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (360) 786-7918.
It is an honor to serve you in the Legislature.
436 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7918 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000