Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While bills continue to be heard in House and Senate committees, operating budgets from the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) and House Democrats are now on the table.
The MCC's budget was unveiled last Tuesday. Highlights include:
- Builds on the previous $4.6 billion in additional education funding over the last two budget cycles, which marked a 36 percent increase in funding.
- Provides $2 billion in new K-12 education spending (a 20 percent increase from the 2015-17 K-12 budget), which means K-12 would represent over 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time since 1983.
- Makes higher education more affordable and more accessible by funding 1,800 new enrollments, with a significant focus on STEM degrees.
- Protects the most vulnerable and those with mental health issues.
- Makes significant investments to protect foster children and those with developmental disabilities.
- Leaves $2 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.
- No new or major tax increases.
House Democrats released their plan yesterday. It not only increases spending by 17 percent in 2017-19 and an additional 15 percent in 2019-21, but it also increases taxes by billions of dollars — $3 billion in 2017-19 and $5 billion in 2019-21.
With the latest revenue forecast bringing good news — revenue has increased by about $258 million more for the remainder of the 2015-17 biennium and about $313 million more for the 2017-19 biennium (a 13.5 percent increase over the current biennium) — it's clear we have more than enough revenue to live within our means as a state and budget in a fiscally responsible way. It's a shame the governor and House Democrats continue to propose billions in unnecessary new taxes every biennium.
The MCC's budget has already been approved by the Senate, while the House Democrats' budget will likely be passed by the House later this week. Once that happens, negotiations on a hybrid compromise will begin. However, seeing as the two sides are so far apart, it would not surprise me if we did not adjourn on time.
Video update: Sound Transit 3
Over the past few weeks, I've received hundreds of emails from constituents about the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) measure that was approved by voters last year. As you have probably heard in the news — or perhaps experienced yourself — many people have seen a drastic hike in their car-tab fees as a result of Sound Transit using inflated vehicle values. Instead of relying on Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association to accurately gauge a vehicle's true value, Sound Transit thought it best to use the MSRP to calculate car-tab fees. That simply doesn't make sense. In my latest video update, I discuss legislation currently on the table that would correct this problem (and others) brought on by ST3. Take a look!
Time running out for state to comply with federal REAL ID Act
In 2004, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission issued its final report on the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history. In the report, the ten commissioners recommended the federal government establish security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards to prevent terrorists from being able to launch another attack. “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons,” they said. The next year, Congress passed the REAL ID Act.
Washington is one of a handful of states that remains noncompliant with the Act. Although participation by states is voluntary, as of Jan. 22, 2018, federal agencies will not accept a driver's license or identicard from residents of noncompliant states. That's why I've introduced House Bill 2176, which would require the Department of Licensing (DOL) to make changes to standard driver's licenses and identicards to ensure our state is compliant.
Other REAL ID compliance bills have been introduced, but they would increase your costs by requiring you to purchase new identification. My bill would allow all Washingtonians who present documentation of lawful presence at the DOL to continue to use their driver's license for all federal purposes, including boarding commercial aircraft. Those unable to provide the necessary documentation could still receive a license, but it would not be able to be used for federal purposes.
Senate companion bills moving forward
Every session, there are a number of bills introduced in the House and Senate that have a companion in the opposite chamber. The purpose of this is to promote simultaneous consideration of the bills. This year, two of the bills I sponsored have Senate companions. I have been working hard to continue to advance both of these bills in the Legislature, and wanted to update you on their status.
House Bill 1632 (Senate Bill 5281) would protect property owners of on-site sewage systems (OSS) from unnecessary government regulations. The bill would restrict state Board of Health rules that affect most OSS from requiring: (1) private monitoring contracts in order to obtain a use permit; (2) dedicated easements for inspection, maintenance or further expansion of an OSS; and (3) replacement when repairs are sufficient to restore functionality of the OSS to its original state. Senate Bill 5281 was approved 29-20 earlier this month, and is now in the House Environment Committee awaiting further action.
House Bill 1788 (Senate Bill 5448) would prohibit schools from: (1) denying a student access to programs or services because their parent or guardian refused to place them on psychotropic (mood stabilizing) medication; (2) requiring a student to undergo psychological screening unless their parent or guardian gives prior written consent. Finally, the bill would prohibit a child from being taken into custody solely on the grounds that their parent or guardian refused to consent to the administration of psychotropic medication. Senate Bill 5448 was approved unanimously earlier this month, but did not advance out of the House Education Committee. However, I'm happy to report the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is committed to amending the Washington Administrative Code to incorporate a portion of the bill's objective. OSPI will also continue working with me on incorporating a different portion of the bill. To be honest, I'm always happy when we can fix policy without creating another law.
Town hall recap
Thank you to the more than 200 of you who joined Sen. Joe Fain, Rep. Pat Sullivan and myself for a town hall meeting March 18 in Kent. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about the wide range of issues before us in the Legislature this year and answer your questions. Each time we hold one of these events, I'm reminded of what a privilege it is to represent my friends and neighbors in the House.
Sponsoring House page Devyn Nelson
I recently had the opportunity to sponsor Rainier Middle School student Devyn Nelson as a page in the state House. Devyn resides in Auburn with her parents, Mark and Michelle. She enjoys swimming and water polo, and is also active in Girl Scouts. While serving as a House page, she attended page school every day, delivered messages and documents to legislators and staff, and fulfilled other tasks critical to the efficient operation of the Legislature. Thank you for your service, Devyn!
Please continue to contact me with your comments, questions and concerns. My phone number and email address are below. I also welcome you to contact my legislative assistant, Roy Atwood, to set up a time to meet with me.
It is an honor to serve you.