The Legislative Tracker Blog is a forum for our local state Senators and Representatives to provide information about the work they are doing in the 2011 Legislative Session which began on Jan. 10, 2011.
OLYMPIA – A pair of bills aimed at public safety improvements were signed into law Thursday, March 29. Senate Bills 6472 and 6296 are both sponsored by Senator Nick Harper, D-Everett.
Hundreds of people die accidently each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. SB 6472 requires that when a house is sold, the seller disclosure form must include whether or not a home has carbon monoxide alarms installed.
A seller disclosure form is a document which lists pertinent information about a home, things such as the sewer/water system, electrical system, roof, etc. A law passed in 2010 requires that carbon monoxide alarms be included in all homes built or sold after the effective date of the law. But many sellers were unaware of the law. SB 6472 will make sure that they are of the requirement for carbon monoxide alarms.
“You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, but it has the potential to kill a person literally within minutes,” Harper said. “Carbon monoxide alarms are just as important as smoke detectors. They are a valuable public safety tool and should be in every home.”
SB 6296 has several functions. Currently people who want to view their criminal history must do so in the presence of someone from the criminal justice agency. 6296 will allow people to obtain a copy of his or her criminal history and create a copying fee to cover costs.
“The state patrol’s time is valuable and can be better spent investigating and preventing crimes,” Harper said. “This will free them up to focus their time and talent toward their core mission – public safety.”
The bill also provides potential state employers with a more complete background check on potential new hires. Currently agencies will not receive pending charges that are not crimes against a person, such as a DUI. They will under SB 6296.
Lawmakers adjourned sine die on March 8, but left some unfinished business, specifically a budget shortfall of about $1.1 billion.
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, issued the following statement:
“We came into this session needing to accomplish only one task, to pass a sustainable, fiscally responsible budget. Unfortunately, the regular session has ended and that has not happened.
“On the final day, the majority passed an updated version of the House Democrat budget, but it has changed very little. It would continue to delay payments to school districts into the next biennium. Some who support the budget call it ‘creative accounting,’ but our own Democratic State Treasurer Jim McIntire just recently called it a ‘felony gimmick.’ Not only is this bad fiscal policy at any level, but it sends the wrong message to our students, schools and educators that we put part of our education budget on a credit card when it should clearly be the top priority in our spending plan. I am also concerned that their spending plan leaves only 350 million dollars in reserves. Combine that with the unpaid liability of 330 million dollars to our schools and there is little margin for responding to fiscal emergencies or natural disasters.
“To say I am disappointed that we leaving without a viable supplemental operating budget is an understatement. We will be back for our fifth special session in two years. At the beginning of the session, we talked about the budget needing to be the focus. Instead, we saw work on a lot of other issues and now this will cost our taxpayers up to an additional 16 thousand dollars a day in special session. This could have been avoided.”
The budget passed the House by a vote of 55-43 with three Democrats voting with Republicans against the measure.
The House on March 8 passed Substitute House Bill 2190, a supplemental transportation budget that will dedicate millions of dollars in new construction and improvements along Highway 9, I-5 and State Route 528. Rep. Mike Hope, who represents the 44th District, voted in support of the measure.
Some of the key projects funded in this year’s budget include:
- $2 million for structural upkeep of the Snohomish River Bridge;
- over $2 million in new construction and improvement to Highway 9, including adding lanes from Lundeen Parkway to State Route 92 in Lake Stevens;
- $8 million in dedicated future funds for intersection improvements to Highway 9 and State Route 528 in Marysville; and
- $10 million of dedicated future funds for the improvement of the intersection at Highway 9 and 84th Ave. NE in Marysville.
“I am proud to see that we were able to pass a bipartisan transportation budget that focused on transportation accessibility and safety throughout our district. This new funding, which is focused around the Highway 9 corridor, will help address the transportation needs of the most congested roads and highways in our county. Moreover, this budget creates shovel-ready jobs for our struggling economy, helping to revitalize the badly damaged construction sector while putting folks back to work,” said Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens.
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, released this statement the Feb. 29 passage of the House supplemental operating budget. She voted “no” on HB 2127.
“Today was more than the House majority party passing a budget. It was about a striking difference in priorities.
Education is defined in the Washington State Constitution as our paramount duty, and this budget does not reflect an approach that prioritizes basic education as such. Rather than funding education first, as I’ve supported, the majority party chose to delay more than 400 million in education and levy equalization payments, essentially putting them off to be paid at a later date in another budget cycle. Levy Equalization is critical to property poor schools. I do not support these kinds of budget gimmicks as a way to balance our budget, especially with our essential education dollars. Our children should receive the state’s first dollars, not its last.
Programs for our most vulnerable must remain a priority in the budgeting process. I supported amendments on the House floor that would have restored necessary funding for our developmentally disabled community, and would have restored cuts proposed by the majority party to mental health. These amendments were rejected, highlighting yet another difference between my philosophy and the reality of the budget passed tonight.
Local governments, also struggling during this difficult budget time, lose critical dollars in this budget. To make up for these cuts, majority budget writers give the local governments further councilmanic authority to raise taxes without a vote of the people, to make up for the cuts made at the state level. This is yet another maneuver that passes the buck on to others to avoid the difficult decisions that should be made now in the Legislature.
This budget takes a credit card spending approach by skipping payments due now and pushing them out in to the future. It lacks long-term reforms that could put us on a sustainable budget path, and leaves Washington State in the same situation we continue to find ourselves in year after year. Proposals and amendments we offered yesterday provided an alternative approach that clearly focused on responsible budgeting practices, assuring that in the budgeting process our first dollars fund our core priorities of education, public safety, and programs for our most vulnerable. This budget simply does not reflect my priorities as a legislator, and pushes too many of our fiscal responsibilities down the road and for that reason I could not support the budget before us.
We can and should do better. The public deserves a more honest and sustainable budget.”
Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, released this statement following the final passage of the House supplemental operating budget Feb. 29. The legislation, House Bill 2127, passed on a 53-45 vote. The 10th District lawmaker, assistant ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, helped unveil an alternative House Republican supplemental operating budget proposal at a news conference on Feb. 17. To learn more about the House Republican proposal click here, and to watch the news conference click here.
“For those of us who saw an opportunity to reform state government in meaningful ways and finally bring sustainability to our budget, this is a disappointing day. The budget passed today will break promises to our schools, place expectations on local governments to raise taxes, and lead to yet another major shortfall next year. Every state lawmaker knows this budget kicks the can down the road, newspapers have reported on its ‘gimmicks’ and taxpayers across our state will ultimately have to pay for this irresponsible approach.
“Sometimes I feel like a broken record. Year after year, I warn about the ramifications of budget gimmicks and a failure to set priorities. And year after year, we see massive budget shortfalls. The majority party will have you believe it is all the economy, but it is really their inability to adjust to economic realities and embrace reforms. We have a group of people in power that will defend the status quo at all costs. Until that changes, we will get more of the same.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hope, would protect law enforcement, first responders, and the public by mirroring AMBER Alert.
When the BLUE Alert system is set in motion, all the resources available to AMBER Alert — like radio, TV and freeway billboards — would be employed to locate someone suspected of killing or harming a law enforcement officer. The concept first surfaced after the shooting of SPD Officer Timothy Brenton, who was killed on Halloween night 2009, and the murder of four Lakewood police officers.
The bill was drafted in January 2010 and has had the continuous support of the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs (COMPAS) and many victim advocacy groups. The bill gained momentum after the recent shooting of State Trooper Tony Radulescu thanks to the advocacy efforts of Rene Maher, Executive Director of COMPAS, and Keriann Shumate, a homicide co-victim advocate.
“It’s not only my responsibility as a police officer but it’s also my duty as a state legislator to protect the public. This bill will provide law enforcement the necessary additional tools to apprehend our most dangerous criminals” Hope said.
State Rep. Mike Hope is a 14-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department.
Rep. Barbara Bailey helps unveil all-priorities state spending at news conference
At a noon press conference in the state Capitol building Feb. 17, House Republicans introduced the Legislature’s first complete supplemental budget proposal for the 2012 session. Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, and ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, spent weeks in deliberations with his caucus colleagues developing the plan which he called an all-priorities budget that protects the core services of state government.
“We’ve said from day one that before there’s any talk of a huge sales tax increase, there needs to be a discussion and a focus on state priorities – the core services of government. I don’t know if that has happened in the other caucuses but I know our caucus spent countless hours during December’s special session and earlier this session developing our priorities and specifically defining each one,” Alexander said. “This budget is a direct reflection of that effort. It is an all-priorities budget that funds the core services of government, which we believe are education, protecting the public, and protecting the most vulnerable. And we do this with no state sales tax increase; no bonding; no securitization; and, no budget gimmicks.”
Alexander’s $1.6 billion budget solution includes:
- Fund transfers: $63 million
- Reversions: $160 million
- Local government Dist: $64 million
- Savings from reduced caseloads: $335.9 million
- Spending reductions: $839.5 million
- Repealing three tax exemptions: $35.6 million
- Sale of surplus property: $25.9 million
- Leaves a reserve of: $650.7 million
Alexander said today’s budget release dovetails with the House Republicans’ earlier Fund Education First budget proposal that has gained support from superintendents, principals, parents, teachers and education groups around the state.
“Everything we did in our Fund Education First budget is included in the overall budget,” said Alexander. “It was the first piece of showing our priorities and then showing how we would fund those priorities. We’re continuing that momentum with the release of our full supplemental budget today.”
The House Republican budget invests $580 million more into education than the governor’s budget proposal. Alexander said they continued that trend of investing more into their priorities by putting $35 million more into public safety and $87 million more into protecting the most vulnerable.
Alexander said he’s worked closely with his counterparts in the majority party, especially the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. However, as the session has progressed, Alexander said he felt like the priorities and principles of his group were – in the end – not going to be adequately reflected by what the majority party was putting together. Despite a healthy respect and good communication between the two budget writers, he said it was time for House Republicans to show a different side to the story.
“I have great respect for the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee,” Alexander said. “He has been open and honest with me and has tried to work collaboratively as much as possible. But our approaches and our desired outcomes were too far apart. Today’s budget is to provide a contrast – a different set of priorities – so the public can see a different way to handle the problem. We are proud of the work that we’ve been able to achieve and feel it represents our core values. And, it will help get Washington working again and save our citizens from further taxes as we pull out of this recession.”
Rep. Barbara Bailey, assistant ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, joined Alexander and Reps. Bruce Dammeier, Maureen Walsh and Charles Ross at the press conference. The 10th District lawmaker highlighted the importance of budget sustainability and setting priorities.
“We felt it was important to lead and show Washingtonians that a sustainable, transparent budget was possible. We have outlined how an all-priorities budget would work and why tax increases are not needed. We want the public to know that there are more solutions on the table than what the majority party plans to offer,” said Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “Budget certainty will provide more economic certainty, and will send the right message to consumers and employers.”
Our budget proposal does not rely on a sales tax increase, but it does:
- Assumes agencies will under spend their budgets by about $160 million, based on past budget cycles;
- Sells three large state-owned “surplus” properties and the liquor distribution center as a result of Initiative 1183; and
- Repeals three tax exemptions totaling about $36 million:
- First mortgage interest deduction for large banks;
- Renewable energy sales tax refund; and
- Ensure businesses do not create out-of-state shell corporations to avoid business and occupation tax.
Our education budget proposal, released Feb. 2:
- Fully funds levy equalization;
- Funds a full 180-day school year;
- Maintains current funding for all-day kindergarten;
- Includes important reforms and increased accountability; and
- Budgets $580 million more in education funding than the governor’s proposal.
You can read more about our Fund Education First philosophy and the detailed proposals here.
Our budget proposal:
- Includes funding for new radios and safety initiatives for prison employees;
- Does not include any early release or reduced community supervision for criminals;
- Includes new funding for gang violence prevention programs; and
- Budgets $40 million more in public safety funding than the governor’s proposal.
You can read more about our solutions for public safety here.
Caring for the Most Vulnerable
We defined “vulnerable,” since the term is often loosely used, as those who cannot care for themselves through no fault of their own. With that definition, we prioritized funding for:
- People with disabilities;
- The elderly (in long-term care);
- Mental health patients; and
We budget $89 million more in these areas than the governor’s budget proposal.
Our budget proposal does:
- Maintain funding for supported employment, supported living, eligibility for personal care services, and agency provider reimbursement rates for people with disabilities.
- Fund 35 out-of-home community placements for people with disabilities.
- Maintain funding for eligibility of personal care services, Adult Day Health, Area Agencies on Aging, and nursing home reimbursement rates.
- Maintain funding for Regional Support Network (RSN) Medicaid reimbursement rates.
- Consolidate the number of RSNs for administrative efficiencies.
- Maintain 97 percent of funding for RSN Non-Medicaid state-only funding.
- Maintain current caseload ratios for Child Protective Service workers and family reconciliation services.
- Maintain 90 percent of current funding for Behavioral Rehabilitative Services and Child Placement case management fees.
- Fully fund reimbursement rates for Critical Access Hospitals and Harborview Medical Center.
- Maintain state funding for school-based Medicaid services and Adult Dental services.
- Provide subsidized health care for undocumented children in a family of four with income of $30,657 or less (133% of federal poverty level).
- Maintain funding for 48-months of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits (currently 60 months).
- Fund subsidized child care for family of four making less than $30,657 per year (133 percent of federal poverty level).
- Reduce TANF monthly cash grant by 5 percent.
Our budget proposal does not:
- Increase or “sweep” the Nursing Home Safety Net Assessment;
- Increase adult family home license fees; or
- Close the Rainier School.
Our budget proposal:
- Does not increase tuition;
- Maintains current eligibility for State Need Grant program for family of four making $57,000 or less (70 percent of median family income);
- Makes changes to the State Need Grant program:
- limit maximum time for grants (two years or four years);
- require filing of application by the FAFSA deadline of March 15;
- Maintains current funding for state work study program; and
- Reduces administrative costs by 0.5 percent at four-year institutions and eliminate funding for remedial education for those under 20 at community colleges.
Our budget proposal:
- Maintains funding for Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers and fish hatchery operations;
- Reduces funding to the Department of Ecology by 14 percent (governor’s proposal reduces by just 4.4 percent); and
- Eliminates all funding for the Puget Sound Partnership.
State Employee Compensation
Our budget proposal:
- Maintains current monthly health benefit funding for K-12 employees;
- Institutes 24 days of furlough for all state employees except critical services (e.g. corrections, hospital, etc.) starting July 1, 2012;
- Reduces state employee monthly health benefit funding rate from $850 to $800; and
- Does not reduce LEOFF 2 pension funding rates.
Our budget proposal:
- Makes $33 million in administrative efficiencies in information technology, goods and services, personal service contracts, travel, equipment and cell phones; and
- Would reduce most general government agencies budgets by 5-10 percent.
“Today’s revenue forecast is welcomed news for budget writers but, more importantly, Washingtonians who are struggling in this down economy. It helps budget writers in the short term, but we cannot allow it to be used as an excuse to sidestep meaningful state government and economic reforms. We must change the culture in Olympia if we are going to get people working again across the state. This is the only path to a long-term, sustainable budget.
“The uptick in state revenue should take major tax increases off the table for Democratic budget writers. I have worked with my House Republican colleagues to craft a budget that does not rely on major tax increases and sets priorities. We look forward to sharing the details of our state spending plan tomorrow.”
More information on the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council can be found here: http://www.erfc.wa.gov/.
It is day 39 of the 60-day legislative session. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn March 8.
Reps. Bruce Chandler and Barbara Bailey are sponsoring House Bill 2509, which would offer more tools to employers to manage their environments safely and productively. The bill received a public hearing on Jan. 25.
If signed into law, the legislation would require the state Department of Labor and Industries to offer the Blueprint for Safety program statewide. Currently, it is offered as a pilot in Northwest Washington.
“The Legislature often hears many contentious issues dealing with the Department of Labor and Industries. This is a success story for the department, and one I hope can become the trademark for how employers and the department approach workplace safety,” said Chandler, R-Granger. “The key to the success is complete buy-in from the top down within a company. The department helps employers focus on changing the atmosphere and not on code issues or citations.”
Several of the 12 companies that currently participate in the program are located in Bailey’s 10th District.
“The goal for Blueprint for Safety is to improve the safety of employees and lower the costs for employers. It is a win-win for everyone,” said Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “This is about doing more than just enforcement, penalties and inspections – it’s about working with employers to create a culture of safety.”
Two employers currently in the pilot program expressed their support for expanding it statewide for other employers.
Gary Thor, the CEO of Commercial Cold Storage in Mount Vernon, submitted written testimony. In it, he explained the success of the program.
“Last year, we spent six straight months without an accident – prior to Blueprint for Safety we rarely went one month without an accident,” Thor said. “We still have a ways to go, but I feel we are becoming a much safer work place. Our success is not unique; every company that has joined Blueprint for Safety has seen similar success. This program works and works well.”
Rick Anderson, the Corporate Administrator for Sakuma Brothers Farms and Processors, shared why Blueprint for Safety was important to his company.
“We worked hard on our accident prevention program and yet we struggled with our experience rating,” Anderson explained. “We knew we had to create a culture of safety if we were going to make positive changes. We needed help. If [the state’s employers] have fewer claims, the costs to the system is reduced and we won’t need rate increases.”
The bill now awaits action by the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee. If it is passed by the committee, it could be considered for a vote by the entire House of Representatives. The 60-day regular session is scheduled through March 8.
OLYMPIA – A classroom assistant in Yelm makes $900 per month and pays $750 per month in insurance.
A school office clerk in Sultan pays $689 per month in insurance coverage for her and her husband.
A school bus driver in Camas works just 20 hours a week yet pays $730 for insurance coverage.
These are just a small sample of the many stories from classified employees in the state who pay astronomical health insurance rates to cover themselves and their families.
Under Senate Bill 6442, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the approximately 300 insurance plans and 1,000 insurance pools for the 295 school districts throughout Washington will be consolidated into one. This will create savings through greatly reduced administrative costs.
The bill is part of the Senate Democrats’ reform agenda.
“One of the most valued benefits that workers have is their health insurance,” Hobbs said during Thursday’s testimony in the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee. “And during these trying times, it is incredibly important that we try to preserve health insurance. I know that it has been talked about that this bill provides savings, but I didn’t do this for savings, I did this so we could cover more hard working people that teach our kids.”
The current system for classified K-12 workers favors individual coverage over family coverage, which can run upwards of $1,300 per month. Many public school employees – such as bus drivers, janitors, para-educators and lunch room workers – spend more than half their salaries on health insurance coverage. Without reform, these rates will only get worse with 10 percent health insurance inflation expected over the next two years.
Ken Flournoy and his wife Nicole have been employed by the Bethel School District for six years. In 2010, after 14 years away, Ken re-enlisted in the National Guard in order to provide full medical coverage for Nicole and their two kids, one of whom has special needs.
“In this day and age, a family can’t go without insurance,” Ken Flournoy said. “But every year we’ve watched our premiums go up. There comes a point when you have to choose between cutting out the necessities or paying for insurance. That’s a decision no family should have to make.”
The State Auditor and Health Care Authority estimate that a consolidated system could save tens of millions of dollars per year. A similar plan implemented in Oregon three years ago has saved $150 million.