Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy new year!

The members and staff of the House Democratic Caucus wish you and yours a happy, healthy and safe new year. Enjoy the festivities and fun (but not too much). We'll see you in 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Well played, Sam

It's officially on.

Rep. Morris has his eye on becoming #1 energy-saving state

Sam Taylor at the Bellingham Herald's Politics Blog, who is a voracious devourer of legislative news apparently, beat us to our OWN posting regarding Rep. Jeff Morris' new bill proposals for the '09 session.

Morris, an energy policy expert by trade, led efforts in 2005 that resulted in adoption of new efficiency standards for many appliances and electrical equipment in Washington. That bill, HB 1062, was estimated to save Washington over 400 million gallons of water, 1.9 million therms of natural gas, and 136 million KW hours of electricity in the first year alone.

“Not only do these policies make sense from an energy conservation standpoint, they make sense economically,” says Morris. “For consumers and businesses of Washington state, those savings equal nearly half a billion dollars in energy savings.” Morris is referring to the estimated HALF A BILLION in savings for consumers and businesses by 2020, thanks to 1062.

As a result, our state has become a national leader in conservation efforts. In fact, for the past two years the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has ranked Washington sixth in the nation in energy-saving policy.

But we suppose chanting, "We're #6!" doesn't sound nearly as cool as "We're #1." So this year, Rep. Morris has his sights on rising even higher in the ACEEE rankings with House Bill 1004, expanding energy efficiency standards to several other appliances, from wine chillers to portable electric spas.

To learn more about the ACEEE and read the report on states’ rankings, or learn how you can save energy at home, visit their site here.

And read the full news release here.

And next time, Sam, we’ll make sure to post our blog-worthy news here before you can beat us to the punch…

Monday, December 29, 2008

Homeowner protection legislation on tap for 2009

The Olympian’s Brad Shannon provides a good overview of the issues around homeowner protection in this weekend’s paper. Rep. Brendan Williams has been one of the more visible players on this issue and has already dropped a bill. In Shannon's words:
Williams already has filed House Bill 1045, which follows a home-warranty approach championed in 2008 by retiring Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor. Lantz's bill was patterned after a warranty rule for condominium purchasers that lawmakers passed in 2005, which Williams is using as a selling point.
But Williams’ approach, which provides homeowners with four-year protections for most defects and 10 years for latent defects and water damage, is only one that lawmakers will be considering.

Rep. Larry Springer and a handful of other Democratic legislators are putting together legislation that will likely include ideas such as a new ombudsman at the Attorney General’s office or arbitration options for homeowners seeking compensation for damages valued less than $50,000. As Shannon reports:
Springer said his focus is specific.

"We're really talking about roofing, siding, doors and windows, framing, and foundations. We are not interested in granite countertops," he said.

"We're really interested in water penetration and structural soundness," Springer said.
Whatever your opinion on this, Shannon outlines many of the pros and cons of the various proposals that is helpful for the average homeowner trying to wrap their head around this issue.

Basic education community forum in Kenmore next Tuesday

State Rep. Ruth Kagi hopes a major community education forum slated for Tuesday evening, Jan. 6, will give local residents a head start in understanding and weighing in on key education-funding issues that lawmakers will face in 2009.

The forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room of the Northshore Public Utility District facility, which is located at 6830 NE 185th St. in Kenmore.

Kagi is co-sponsoring the forum with the Washington State PTA and League of Education Voters to give parents, teachers and others an inside view of the findings and recommendations of the Washington State Basic Education Funding Task Force.

“We need our local communities to have a strong voice in decisions that will shape the future of education here and throughout Washington, and this forum will help,” said Kagi.

State Rep. Ross Hunter will be at the forum to provide an inside look at the work and recommendations of the Basic Education Funding Task Force. Hunter is a key member of the Task Force who also chairs the House Finance Committee in the State Legislature.

Citizens attending the forum will also have an opportunity to hear the perspectives and ask questions of Scott Allen, the Vice President of the Washington State PTA, and George Scarola, the Legislative Policy Director for the League of Education Voters.

“This will truly be a community discussion on education, and not an event where people are just talked at,” Kagi said. “We will all be fielding questions and comments at the forum, and the public perspectives I hear will be invaluable as I prepare for the legislative session that starts on Jan. 12.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Silent night... and a few silent days

Don't expect much from us the next several days as we'll be playing in the snow, drinking eggnog, and enjoying some quality time with our families before abandoning them for the 2009 session.

Happiest of holidays to everyone from the members and staff of the House Democratic Caucus!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cap-and-trade idea bumping up against economic forces

Last year the Legislature approved HB 2815, a comprehensive bill that put in motion an aggressive effort to dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state. The state Department of Ecology and Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development just released the Comprehensive Plan focusing on the first major goal of the legislation which is to reduce Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

A centerpiece of the plan is a regional cap-and-trade system in cooperation with the Western Climate Initiative, a coalition of seven states and four Canadian provinces. It also happens to be the top priority of the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition which actually calls this a "Cap and Invest" program, emphasizing that money from the program would be directed to encourage new green jobs and innovation, as well as help low-income households with energy bills.

There’s broad agreement among legislators and stakeholders that such a system is the right way to go, but as with many good ideas, disagreement arises over the details of how it should be implemented.

And now that Washington is looking at an almost $6 billion shortfall, the details are getting even stickier. Environmentalists and many legislators have pushed for a cap-and-trade system that auctions off credits to businesses. The idea is that companies who need the emission credits will buy more.
But businesses, suffering through the economic recession, are raising concerns, leading Gregoire to consider an alternative.

The Associated Press reports:
Concerned about the bad economy and pressure on businesses, Gregoire is leaning toward giving away most of the pollution credits, rather than auctioning them off as environmentalists had hoped.
But other pieces of the plan may still move forward with broad agreement despite the economic situation. The article continues:
The governor’s proposed budget includes about $25 million for climate change, including money to add solar panels to three state prisons, increase the energy efficiency of public buildings and fund anaerobic digesters to reduce waste. There’s also money in the budget to increase vanpools.

The Climate Action Team, which Gregoire convened last year to come up with concrete ways to fight climate change, earlier this month called for more energy-efficient buildings, compact urban development, better collection of recycled materials, reduced driving and revised development rules to account for greenhouse gas emissions.

Janice Adair of the state Department of Ecology said the state won’t pursue some of those recommendations next year, such as giving tax credits to buildings that reduce energy use.

She said other groups or legislators may push for them, and some efforts, such as revising the energy code to reduce energy use, can still be done.

Some environmentalists say they understand the situation.

“It’s obviously a dismal budget situation,” said K.C. Golden, policy director with Climate Solutions. “We’re not expecting enormous public investment.”

He said there’s opportunity for private investment in energy-efficient buildings and through the cap-and-trade program.
However this plays out, it will be certainly be one of the issues that businesses and environmentalists will be keeping an eye on this session.

About that Viaduct in Seattle

State, county and city planners have narrowed down eight Viaduct options to two options. (And yes, there was also a ninth "hybrid" proposal introduced by reps of downtown and business groups that wasn't part of the evaluation process.)

Now the baton has been passed to Governor Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and King County Executive Ron Sims to make a final decision, supposedly by the end of this month. That is, they'll share their decision with the Legislature. The Legislature will have to approve the plan.

And for some lawmakers, including Gregoire, that means all the options are still on the table.

So for anyone keeping track of who is saying what about which Viaduct options, here are two recent op-eds by Seattle-area legislators Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and Rep. Ruth Kagi. Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who's on first?

Last week House Democrats finalized committee assignments for the 2009 session. As you might recall, there will be a few new committees and some new committee chairs. We also are looking forward to welcoming a new crop of freshman legislators.

So for anyone looking to get a jumpstart on talking to the legislators who work on your favorite issues, here's your list of 2009 House Democratic Caucus Committee Assignments.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Olympia press corps is a dying breed

Andrew Garber's article in today's Seattle Times is a must-read for anyone interested in government or media.

Those of us working in the Legislature have been watching sadly as fewer and fewer reporters occupy the press offices in what we fondly call the "White House" and "Blue House" next to the Capitol.

Garber reports:

During the past 15 years, the state population has increased by 25 percent and the amount of tax money spent by the state has more than doubled. Yet the number of print, television and radio journalists covering the state Legislature full time has dropped by about 70 percent.
It is a long-term trend that accelerated this decade and finally fell off a cliff this year because of plunging advertising revenue in face of the recession and a changing media landscape.
In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.
Garber makes the make the point (and legislators like Rep. Hans Dunshee agree) that having knowledgeable reporters around to keep an eye on the goings-on in the Capitol is essential. The scrutiny keeps lawmakers honest.
For those of us who work in the Legislature, we would add the point that reporters also keep each other honest. When fewer of them are trying to cover the same amount of news, it's harder for them to make sure their facts are straight and their stories are objective.
So the seasoned, can't-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes Dave Ammons is no longer around to drill legislators about the nitty-gritty details of budgets and bills? The Columbian apparently won't be sending Kathie Durbin up from Vancouver to be embedded in legislative life for the few months of session? How much does it matter? When we see this same trend across the country and in the D.C. press as well, what does it mean about the Fourth Estate's ability to keep tabs on Congress and the White House?

This is the kind of story that really makes you think.

More about the budget in Gregoire's own words

The Seattle Times editorial board spoke with Governor Gregoire and her budget director, Victor Moore, yesterday following the release of her budget proposal. They posted their interview online. The audio is clipped into four convenient segments for your listening pleasure.

Okay, so maybe it's not a pleasure, but it is worth a listen. Gregoire shares some insight into what was clearly a difficult process.

Again, her proposal is only the first step and when legislators convene in Olympia for the 2009 session next month, they'll get to work quickly on proposals of their own.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Statement from Speaker Chopp on Governor Gregoire's budget proposal

From House Speaker Frank Chopp:

"The reductions in the Governor’s budget bring home just how serious our national economic situation really is. Cuts in health care for children and services to the elderly, people who can’t work due to disabilities, and the mentally ill will be devastating to them and will cost us more in the long run.

I also agree with Senator Brown’s concern that this budget counts federal money we don’t have yet.

But this is just step one. The final budget must reflect the basic values of Washington’s people – educating our children, protecting our vulnerable, and building our economy."

The longer short version of Gov's budget proposal

Lots of budget info to share here, so our apologies for the longer-than-usual blog post. For a look at some of the early news reports, visit here, here, here and here.

The Governor’s budget proposal makes it clear, if it wasn’t already, that our budget situation is dire. The budget cuts she proposes do affect our children, our seniors and many other vulnerable folks in our state such as those with disabilities. Her proposal marks the start of the budget-crafting process and when the Legislature convenes next months, lawmakers will take the torch and craft proposals of their own.

But for a review of where we’re at today with the Gov’s proposal, here’s a sample of the kinds of cuts we’ll be looking at. Complete documents can be found at OFM’s website.

Federal Funding: Governor Gregoire has assumed that Washington will receive about $1 billion in federal funding. About $779 million would be increased Medicaid funding. Additional federal dollars are also expected through the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Also, the state is expected to get additional funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Compensation: This budget does not include funding for state employee raises. The Governor does not fund the cost-of-living adjustments for K-12 employees under Initiative 732. Together, these compensation reductions save $680 million.

Pensions: Governor Gregoire saves about $400 million in contributions to the state's pension systems.

Revenues: The proposal does not include tax increases, and increases only one fee that deals with federal cleanup activities at Hanford. It does assume additional revenues from additional liquor store hours and additional enforcement from the Department of Revenue.

K-12: Initiative 732 is not funded (saves $349.2 million). Governor reduces funding for Initiative 728 (classroom size reduction) activities by $178 million. Levy equalization, the match the state provides to "property poor" districts, is cut by 33%, saving $125.4 million. Other reductions include: Not funding the two state-funded professional development days for math and science (saves $39.7 million), and elimination of numerous programs and grants totaling $60.8 million.

Higher Education: Four-year universities take a 13% reduction and the community and technical colleges take a 6% reduction (savings of $342 million). Eligibility for the State Need Grant is reduced though the Governor funds increases in the state need grant required to cover tuition increases.

Early Learning: The Department of Early Learning will cut $3 million by suspending the Career and Wage Ladder, $2 million from suspending the Family, Friends and Neighbors program and $1.7 million from eliminating state support for the Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

Health Care: Reductions here include:

· Reducing Basic Health Plan funding by 42% - saves $252 million

· Supending coverage of children between 250 and 300% of federal poverty - saves $6.1 million state, $7.9 million federal

· Eliminating medical care for the General Assistance - Unemployable (GAU) program - saves $251.3 million

· A 1% reduction to rates paid to Medical Assistance managed care plans will continue through the biennium - saves $37.7 million state, $49.2 million federal

· Hospitals, excluding psychiatric ones, will see their inpatient and outpatient rates reduced by 4%- saves $46.9 million state, $53.9 million federal

· The state will no longer purchase all vaccines for children not covered by Medicaid - saves $49.6 million

· Increasing use of generic drugs by 20%, consolidating drug purchasing and reducing coverage for some drugs – saves $108.6 million state, $280.8 million federal

Human Services: These reductions are all in the Department of Social and Health Services:

· Discontinuing the Adult Day Health Program - saves $20.3 million state, $20.3 million federal

· Eliminating the General Assistance Unemployable (GAU) program - saves $160.6 million. "Offset" funding of $20 million for emergency housing and $40 million for community clinics is provided.

· Closing the Yakima Valley School, a developmental disabilities institution - saves $1 million state, $600,000 federal. Funding is provided for community settings.

· Medicaid nursing home rates are scheduled to go up by 2.5% on 7/1/09. The Governor proposes to reduce rates by 7.5%, so the net reduction is 5% - saves $46.2 million state, $42.6 million federal

· Mental Health Services provided through regional support networks are reduced. Medicaid rates down by 3.2% and non-Medicaid rates down by 7.4 % - saves $30.5 million

· TANF sanctions will be accelerated - saves $30.4 million

· The budget assumes that Initiative 1029, passed in November, will be suspended for two years – saves about $29 million

· Secure crisis residential centers are eliminated - saves $9.4 million

Public Safety: The Governor is proposing a number of changes in the state's corrections system. They include:

· Elimination of supervision for misdemeanants - saves $31.7 million

· Discontinuation of community supervision for low-risk offenders, except for sex offenders and violent offenders - saves $9.9 million

· Setting of community custody sentence lengths at 12 months - $27.2 million

· Early release for elderly and ill offenders - $1.5 million

· Deportation of non-citizen offenders with property or drug offenses - $9.1 million

The Governor is also proposing to close Naselle Youth Camp - saving $12.9 million; reducing funding to expand evidence-based programs in the Juvenile Rehabilitation program - saving $8.7 state, $1.4 million Reinvesting in Youth Account; and reducing chemical dependency treatment funding for adult outpatient and residential services - saves $11.4 million.

Natural Resources: The Governor is proposing the following:

· Closing some state fish hatcheries - saves $6.6 million state, $1.7 million other

· Closing 13 state parks - saves $5.2 million

· Reducing local watershed management technical and financial assistance - saves $2.3 million state, $2.9 million other

· Elimination of funding for geologic hazard studies - saves $2.4 million

· Water Resource Management Funding - saves $2.2 million

Ending Fund Balances: For the 2009-11 biennium, the ending fund balance is $408 million General Fund-State and $100 million in the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), for a total of $508 million. For the current biennium, the ending GF-S balance is $183 million and $432 in the BSA, for a total of $615 million.

Snowed in with nothing to do?

Channel-surf your way to TVW at 9:30 this morning to watch Governor Gregoire unveil her 2009-2011 budget proposal. If you miss the morning show, the station will rebroadcast her press conference later today at noon, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Please to enjoy, a short photo gallery of the capitol from Snowpocalypse 2008.

Happy Holidays from the HDC.

Times set for opening ceremony, inaugural address and more

Mark your calendars! We know you've been waiting to see the plans for the opening ceremonies and speeches of the 2009 legislative session, and we're happy to share.
Just in from the Chief Clerk's office:
The 2009 session -- and opening day ceremonies -- will commence promptly at 12:00 noon on Monday, January 12 in the House Chambers. Opening day ceremonies will include the administration of oaths of office to members of the House and the election of Speaker, Speaker Pro Tempore and Chief Clerk.
Opening Day ceremonies will be broadcast across the state on TVW.
Joint Session - On Tuesday, January 13 at 11:30 a.m., the House and Senate will meet in joint session to canvass the 2008 general election returns and to honor statewide elected officials Mike Murphy, Terry Bergeson and Doug Sutherland.
Inaugural Address - On Wednesday, January 14 at 11:30 a.m., the House and Senate will meet in joint session in the House Chambers for the swearing in ceremony of the statewide elected officials and to hear Governor Gregoire deliver the Inaugural address.
State of the Judiciary - On Friday, January 16 at 11:30 a.m., we will meet in joint session in the House Chambers to hear Chief Justice Alexander give the State of the Judiciary address.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

State agency, industry respond to Hudgins call for emissions reductions

Are big businesses being rewarded for polluting more?

That’s the question State Representative Zack Hudgins (D - Tukwila) posed to the Department of Ecology (DOE) when he called for the creation of the Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee (TRAC) last legislative session. Hudgins tasked the committee with addressing the way in which DOE collects fees from businesses that release toxic industrial pollution into our air, land, and water.

State officials and business leaders recently reported back to the members of the state House Committee on Environmental Health, of which Hudgins serves as the Majority Leader, on their efforts to revamp the outdated system perceived by some to be allowing bigger polluters to get away with larger quantities of toxic emissions.

Here’s how the system works: Currently the state DOE can collect fees from companies for toxic emissions up to a certain limit. That limit is what has many smaller companies, as well as environmental advocates, calling for change. The more a company pollutes, they argue, the less impact the fee has.

Hudgins challenged DOE’s experts and lobbied his legislative colleagues in the House and Senate to come up with a new way of funding the program, as well as the incentives for pollution-reduction strategies adopted by businesses. His efforts led to the creation in the 2008 state budget of TRAC, the stakeholder advisory group that weighed in on the fee cap, as well as efforts to reduce all toxic emissions in the state by 50 percent.

Read the full story here.

Click here to learn more about the Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee and their findings and recommendations report.

Balancing the budget – ideas from the left and right

Finding ways to address an almost $6 billion revenue shortfall isn’t a job for the faint of heart. That's like cutting at least 500 programs that cost $10 million each. Or imagine it this way - if you combined our state's entire higher education budget ($3.8 billion) and Department of Corrections budget ($1.9 billion), you could get to the magic number. The bottom line is that balancing the budget will take a lot more than a few nips and tucks (and Washington isn't the only state sharpening its budget knife).

When it comes to ideas, though, there seems to be no shortage. Legislators coming to Olympia next month are getting an earful from, well, pretty much everyone. Below is a small sampling from two prominent think tanks - one conservative-leaning group and the other progressive. It shows the range of diverse ideas floating about.

Ideas from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank:
  • Don’t ask for federal bailout money.
  • Cut salaries versus layoffs.
  • Get the state out of the liquor business.
  • Increase state employee health care cost sharing.
  • Merge state agencies with similar responsibilities (L&I/ESD).
  • Eliminate prevailing wage.
  • Re-negotiate the union contract and eliminate pay raises for all employees – managers, elected officials, everyone for the next 4 years.
Ideas from the Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think tank:
  • A withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.
  • A temporary general sales tax increase.
  • Fully offsetting the sales tax increase for lower-income working families through the Working Families Rebate.
  • Careful consideration of budget choices including tax expenditures.
Governor Gregoire is expected to release her budget proposal on Thursday and it will be our first look at exactly what it will take to balance the budget.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Goodman taking aim at Electoral College with national popular vote bill

As the state’s Electoral College delegates met today at the capitol, two state legislators announced their intention to move the country towards electing the president by a national popular vote.

State Sen. Joe McDermott, D-West Seattle, and Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, will sponsor the legislation leading to a national popular vote for president and want to remind the state that the President of the United States is not elected by a direct vote of the people, but rather by 538 presidential electors.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It’s so far been enacted by states possessing 50 electoral votes, 19 percent of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect. Those states are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey.

No changes to how the state allocates its presidential delegates would occur until the law is passed in states totaling to 270 electoral votes or more.

“The principle of one person, one vote is ingrained in the mind of every citizen,” Goodman said. “Even when explained, it’s impossible, with a straight face, to explain why the Electoral College should trump this cherished principle. When we vote for president, we don’t vote as Washingtonians—we vote as Americans.”

Link: National Popular Vote

Seeking students who want to work a week in Olympia as a page

Noting some rather embarrassing results from a recent civics survey of young people, many legislators, including Rep. Jim Moeller, are urging students to consider working as legislative pages in the upcoming 2009 session.
Moeller, who represents the Vancouver area, was struck that most 15- to 26-year-olds could name the reigning “American Idol” and that a big majority also knew that the cartoon “Simpsons” live in a fictional town called Springfield. Sadly, though, not nearly as many young people could say much about their own nonfictional state government.
“We need to get more citizens engaged in the government process – and that certainly includes young citizens,” the lawmaker explained. “Students who serve as a legislative page in Olympia learn a great deal about their state’s political system.”
The Legislative Page Program provides a week-long, hands-on lesson in civics for students between 14 and 16 years old. Pages are paid a salary and work a regular business day, delivering messages, distributing documents on the legislative floor, and taking care of other errands. They also attend page school for two hours during the workday, where they learn key concepts about government. For young people traveling from distant parts of the state, private housing is available through host families who live in the Olympia area.
The 2009 session will run from January 12 through late April. Students who want to be considered for a page position should apply as soon as possible. To find out more about the Page Program, go to and click on either the House of Representatives Page Program or the Senate Page Program. Applications can be downloaded from the Web site and must be sent to a representative or senator for consideration. From this Page Program Web site, interested young people can navigate to Web sites (with addresses) for their local legislators.

Another budget casualty - preschool rating system

Washington's Department of Early Learning is putting the brakes on its new Seeds to Success pilot program. It's another sign of what's to come as state leaders figure out how to manage the state's projected $5 billion revenue shortfall.

Seeds to Success is a pilot program recently launched in five communities around the state. The state evaluates preschools who opt-in to the program and assigns a quality rating that is made public. In exchange for participating in the program, preschools gain access to resources that help them improve the quality of care they provide. The idea is to help families find quality care for their children while helping providers improve their services.

The Department of Early Learning is hoping to save about $2.8 million and instead minimize cuts to the state-funded preschool program known as ECEAP (early childhood education assistance program).

Like the cuts to the state's Basic Health Plan, this is one more example of the tough budget decisions state agencies will face in the coming months.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A bit of good news for businesses: Lower taxes in 2009

Washington's Employment Security Department is reporting some welcome good news for business owners across the state.

"For the first time ever, more than half of all Washington employers will be in the lowest unemployment-insurance tax bracket in 2009, with tax savings totaling some $45 million...

The department is currently mailing 2009 tax-rate notices to more than 150,000 businesses. All told, about 25 percent of employers will see rate decreases, with just 18 percent seeing rate increases."

The department says the reason for the improved 2009 tax rates is the relatively low unemployment rate over the past four years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

House Democrats elect additional leadership posts

Washington House Democrats have selected more members of their leadership team. Joining Speaker-designate Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, Caucus Chair Bill Grant, Majority Whip Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Speaker pro tem-designate Jeff Morris are:
Majority Floor Leader: Zack Hudgins
Majority Caucus Liaison: Larry Springer
Caucus Vice Chair: Dawn Morrell
Assistant Majority Floor Leader: Tami Green
Deputy Majority Whip: Kevin Van De Wege
In 2007-08, Hudgins and Springer shared Floor Leader duties while Morrell served as Deputy Majority Whip. Van De Wege was an Assistant Majority Whip.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting to Wasteless in Washington

The state Department of Ecology just reported that, although the recycling rate remained the same at 43 percent of municipal waste in 2007, the amount of waste generated per person in Washington declined for the first time in six years.

According to Ecology's press release, Washingtonians averaged 7.9 pounds of waste per person each day in 2007, down from 8.0 pounds in 2006.

While that translates into 4 million tons of material recycled, that still leaves us with 5.3 million tons of waste sent to landfills.

Click here for more information on Ecology's Sustainability, Waste Reduction, and Recycling programs.

And download your own Pocket Guide to Sustainability here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A computer with a view [of the future Viaduct]

A story from yesterday's Seattle Times included a very cool online tool for visually-comparing the eight Viaduct options (and did someone mention a possible new ninth option???).

Give your computer a few minutes to download all the images, but trust us, it's worth the wait!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege hits the road

With the 2009 legislative session on the horizon, Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (Sequim) is on a two-day tour of his district to meet with constituents. Van De Wege’s district, the 24th LD, is geographically the largest in the state. It covers all of Clallam and Jefferson counties, plus the upper third of Grays Harbor County. This morning, Rep. Van De Wege is in Port Angeles visiting ACTI Composites and Kenmore Air.

But the real fun comes this afternoon, when he drives over to the community of Forks. Forks has become rather famous lately, thanks to the immense popularity of the “Twilight” book series (now a major motion picture as well). We’re not sure if Rep. Van De Wege has read any of the books, especially since they are most popular with teenage girls, but “Twilight” has definitely provided an economic boost to Forks, where the vampire series takes place. In fact, the Forks Forum wrote in its November 19 issue that state accommodation tax revenues from the town and surrounding area are up 50% thanks to all the “Twilight” buzz. Not bad for a small timber community in Grays Harbor County Clallam County (thanks to Steven Friederich of The Daily World for catching the error).

Rep. Van De Wege’s visit to Forks today will begin with a 2:30 visit to Dazzled By Twilight, a Twilight-memorabilia store on N Forks Avenue. Stops at the Forks Chamber of Commerce and Forks Middle School will follow. He will finish off today’s itinerary with a 7:00 p.m. Town Hall Meeting in Aberdeen (Port of Grays Harbor port chambers).

Tomorrow’s stops include tours of Imperium Renewables (the nation’s largest biodiesel plant) and the Paneltech manufacturing plant in Aberdeen, as well as the Estrella Family Creamery in Montesano. Rep. Van De Wege will wrap up his tour Tuesday evening with a Town Hall Meeting at the Sequim Library at 7:00 p.m.

Basic Ed Task Force has a full two days ahead

The Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance is meeting in Olympia today and tomorrow. Despite the group's wonky name, this is a group that anyone interested in Washington's education system needs to keep an eye on.

These are the folks tasked with figuring out a) how we should define "basic education," and b) what kind of funding system it will take to fully fund basic ed. At this point, five separate proposals have been developed for the task force to look at (including one proposal from legislators serving on the task force). Members are looking at each in detail and trying to finalize one comprehensive proposal to send to the Legislature.

You wouldn't think defining "basic education" would be tough but get ten people in a room and ask them each how they'd define it. You'll probably get ten different answers. Is it just reading, writing and arithmetic? Should it include things like art and music? What level of support for pupil transportation should the state provide? What level of experience with computers and technology should we expect of students? Current definitions were drafted in the 1970s when nobody thought that computers would be as basic an education tool as pencils and paper.

It was in the 70s that we also developed a series of funding formulas (14 of 'em, if you can believe it) to calculate what the state pays a district for everything from transportation and instruction for children with disabilities to operations and administration. The formulas are outdated, complicated, and fail to account for today’s real costs of educating our children.

Which brings us back full-circle to the work of the task force members. Tune in for what will certainly be a lively conversation about the future of education in our state.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Schual-Berke seeking greener pastures among Kiwis

Rep. Shay Schual-Berke is busily packing up what's left of her Olympia office and preparing to leave the Legislature after serving the 33rd Legislative District for more than 10 years. But she isn't settling down for a life of leisure in Des Moines. Rather, she's venturing to distant lands with her husband who recently accepted a job in - where else? - New Zealand, of course.

When asked what she'll miss most about life as a legislator, Rep. Schual-Berke said it will probably be the buzz and excitement of being part of policy discussions that really matter.

"I'm really proud of the things I was able to do here," says Rep. Schual-Berke. "Whether it was advocating for the children in our welfare system, helping people without access to health care services, folks victimized by payday loan schemes... I've always tried to fight for the underdog."

But retiring from the Legislature will give Rep. Schual-Berke an opportunity to watch her children as they grow into young adults and enjoy new adventures with her husband. Perhaps she'll even have time to enjoy some of New Zealand's increasingly popular wine!

Jim McIntire says good-bye... kinda

Rep. Jim McIntire is hanging up his hat as State Rep. for Seattle's 46th district but isn't going far. As the state's Treasurer-elect, chances are he'll continue to cross paths with his current colleagues on a regular basis. As he prepares to take up shop in the Treasurer's office, Rep. McIntire says:

It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Washington with so many dedicated and talented colleagues. Together we have accomplished much during the past 10 years. As Treasurer, I look forward to working with the Legislature and the Governor to plan for an even better financial future for Washington.

Rep. Lantz waxes poetic about time in Legislature

Rep. Pat Lantz from Gig Harbor has served in the Legislature since 1997. Joe Turner of the News Tribune wrote up a great summary of Rep. Lantz's time in the House and a preview of what she'll do with her newfound free-time. Word is she'll volunteer with Washington's Heritage Center Trust and focus on one of her great passions - poetry.

In Pat's words:
It’s been quite a ride. As a legislator, I’ve seen such a spectrum of events - from the dot com boom and bust, to the 9-11 attacks and their societal and political ramifications, to protecting our civil liberties for the past 12 years. I am proud of my steadfast service to my community and our state. I am pleased, too, with my accomplishments in advocating for access to justice, fending off library censorship, addressing domestic violence, and raising awareness for the need of a healthy Puget Sound, including examining the controversial practice of geoduck farming. I didn’t have the luxury of always being in the clear majority, so I am proud of the negotiating skills I honed over the years. For certain, I have had the pleasure of working with a tremendous group of people, many of whom are as passionate as I am about good governance. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything.

Retiring members start bidding farewell

This week is Assembly Days and legislators are in town ramping up for the 2009 session. For members looking ahead to retirement, however, this is the week they come to say farewell to their colleagues and pack up their offices. Before they head off into the sunset, however, we thought we'd try to capture some parting thoughts and words of wisdom. Starting with Rep. Fromhold...

Rep. Bill Fromhold from Vancouver is retiring after serving four terms. He's going to pursue a business partnership with his wife, Marcia.

About his time in the Legislature, he says:

I have appreciated the rare opportunity to serve in the capacity I have, especially on the Education Appropriations, Appropriations, and Capital Budget committees. Working together with my colleagues and staff to get things done for the people of Washington has been both a gratifying and humbling experience. I may be moving on, but I know the good work will continue.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Understanding the state budget just got easier...

...thanks to a great new site put together by the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program committee and the Governor's Office of Financial Management. One visit provides a quick snapshot of state spending and revenue, as well as links to much more detailed information on everything from agency expenditures to revenue forecasts and more.

H/T to Joe Turner at the News Tribune for pointing this out to folks.

New committee chairs are now official

Legislators in the House D Caucus finally approved the committee structure and chairs for the 2009-2011 session. Committees and Chairs are:

Agriculture and Natural Resources: Brian Blake (Aberdeen)
Audit Review and Oversight: Mark Miloscia (Federal Way)
Capital Budget: Hans Dunshee (Snohomish)
Commerce and Labor: Steve Conway (Tacoma)
Community and Economic Development and Trade: Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (Seattle)
Early Learning and Children’s Services: Ruth Kagi (Lake Forest Park)
Ecology and Parks: Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines)
Education: Dave Quall (Mount Vernon)
Education Appropriations: Kathy Haigh (Shelton)
Environmental Health: Tom Campbell (Roy)
Finance: Ross Hunter (Medina)
Financial Institutions and Insurance: Steve Kirby (Tacoma)
General Government Appropriations: Jeannie Darneille (Tacoma)
Health and Human Services Appropriations: Eric Pettigrew (Seattle)
Health Care and Wellness: Eileen Cody (Seattle)
Higher Education: Deb Wallace (Vancouver)
Human Services: Mary Lou Dickerson (Seattle)
Judiciary: Jamie Pedersen (Seattle)
Local Government and Housing: Geoff Simpson (Covington)
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness: Christopher Hurst (Enumclaw)
Rules: Frank Chopp (Seattle)
State Government and Tribal Affairs: Sam Hunt (Olympia)
Technology, Energy and Communications: John McCoy (Tulalip)
Transportation: Judy Clibborn (Mercer Island)
Ways and Means: Kelli Linville (Bellingham)

Additionally, two vice chairs were also selected:
Ways and Means: Mark Ericks (Bothell)
Capital Budget: Timm Ormsby (Spokane)

Note the major change in committee structure with the creation of the Ways and Means committee. It replaces what was the Appropriations Committee. Now, the Education Appropriations, General Government Appropriations, and Health and Human Services Appropriations committees are standing committees (instead of sub-committees) and they will make funding recommendations to the new Ways and Means committee.