Friday, January 9, 2009

What's hot in the House next week?

Session starts next Monday and there are dozens, yes dozens, of committee hearings and work sessions planned for the first week.

How's a person to know which meetings to pay attention to? We're here to help. Every Friday we'll post a "Hot List" preview of the coming week. And each morning we'll take a second look at that day's hottest hearings and make sure you know what's in store for the day.

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list of all the meetings so if you're trying to follow the work of a particular committee or track a certain bill, it's best to regularly check the legislative calendar and bill info pages. Final disclaimer - this schedule is subject to change.

Hot List for the Week of January 12

Monday, January 12
3:30 in Ways & Means
Public hearing on Governor’s 2009 supplemental budget proposal

Wednesday, January 14
8:00 a.m. in Community & Economic Development & Trade
Work Session: The Governor’s 2009 proposals for economic stimulus and development.

8:00 a.m. in Technology, Energy & Communications
Public Hearing: HB 1011 – Regulating the use of identification devices by governmental and business entities.

1:30 p.m. in Education
Work Session: Public testimony on Governor’s proposed budget for K-12 education.

1:30 p.m. in Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness
Public Hearing: HB 1039 – Establishing a statewide chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear or explosive agent (CBRNE) response program.

Work Session: Overview of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and its 2009 proposed legislation.

Thursday, January 15
10:00 a.m. in Community & Economic Development & Trade
Work Session: The 2009/2010 marketing plan for Washington State tourism.

1:30 p.m. in Health & Human Services Appropriations
Public Hearing: Public testimony on health and human services items in the Governor’s proposed 2009-11 budget.

6:00 p.m. in Health & Human Services Appropriations
Public Hearing: Continued public testimony on health and human services items in the Governor’s proposed 2009-11 budget.

Friday, January 16
8:00 a.m. in Ecology & Parks
Work Session: The impact of climate change on low-income communities.

1:30 p.m. in Finance
Work Session: Briefing on state and national economy.

1:30 p.m. in Agriculture & Natural Resources
Work Session: Overview of the Department of Natural Resources and introduction of new Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.

Washington ranked #1 state to start a business by U.S. News & World Report

While we may not have a sports team that can rise above .500, our state at least gets to wear this huge championship belt around our collective waist:

U.S. News and World Report just released their ranking of the best states in which to start a business and Washington tops the list.

Here's what they have to say about us:
#1 Washington. The Evergreen State tops the list by coming in second on the New State Economy Index and fifth on the Small Business Survival Index. Washington is first among the states in steps toward energy efficiency and using more alternative-energy sources. It also has a highly productive manufacturing sector, signaling high wages and a tech-intensive economy. Washington leads the nation in value added per production hour as a percentage of the national average—the difference in value between inputs in the production process and the value of the units as finally sold. But in addition to these nonpolitical factors, Washington also has very low taxes, making the costs of growing a business quite low. It does not have its own income or capital-gains taxes, either personal or corporate.
This isn't the only list that puts Washington at or near the top of its business rankings. Back in July Forbes Magazine listed our state #3 "Best State for Business," climbing from 5th in 2007 and 12th in 2006.

While this may not rise to the level of a parade down 1st Avenue and some overturned cars, this can go a long way in recruiting and retaining business in our state. And it's certainly nice to gain national recognition for something other than storm and flood "events."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Video: A Day in the 11th District with Rep. Zack Hudgins

We decided to pack up a government-issued van and follow Zack around his stomping grounds for a day, letting him be our tour guide through one of Washington's most diverse, most industrialized, and most interesting districts.

We began at his home on the Tukwila hills and followed the Duwamish, working our way through the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown, to the Port of Seattle where the river meets the Sound. You'll see some of the history, the beauty, and the challenges facing a district that helped shape Washington's past and remains critical to our future.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

State launches Tech Directory

This week the state Department of Information Services launched a Directory of Community Technology Programs in Washington.

The directory was part of a package designed by state legislators last year to encourage high-tech education and workplace skills for working families across Washington. Other pieces include an inventory of current internet infrastructure, as well as the development of a plan to provide high-speed internet service to disenfranchised or unserved areas.

All of this means progress towards a healthy and vibrant, 21st century and globally focused state economy in the eyes of State Representative Zack Hudgins (D – Tukwila). “This is about helping people get the skills to succeed in today’s – and tomorrow’s - economy, regardless of income or location.”

Hudgins, along with counterparts in the Senate like Sen. Kohl-Welles, plan to continue working on bringing high-speed internet connections to all corners of the state, and all points in between, as he likes to point out. “Even in my district, arguably the most industrialized and urbanized in the state, there are pockets without access to the internet. With so many informational and educational opportunities available online now, access to the internet has become almost as important to learning as paper and pencils, and a vital businesses tool for competing in a global marketplace.”

So you don't have to scroll all the way back to the top of this post and risk developing any more carpal-tunnel, the Directory of Community Technology Programs can be found here again.

Grades in on Washington's education system

Education Week just released its 50-state report card for K-12 school improvement and the news for Washington is mixed.

Our overall grade is a C (76.2) and we ranked 33rd in the nation. No states received an A and only ten states earned a B.

Washington earned higher-than-average marks in early learning and adult outcomes, school finance equity, assessment, and economy and workforce (the one area Washington earned an A+).

Our lowest scores were in status and equity in K-12 achievement, school finance spending (our only F), college readiness and building and supporting capacity within the teaching profession.

Education Week’s annual report card is highly regarded. This year’s report provided an in-depth look at how schools across the nation are trying to meet the needs of 5.1 million English-language learners. Washington isn’t experiencing as much growth in our ELL population as most other states, but there are about 77,000 ELL students in our state schools.

Moeller resumes mission for consumers, honest tradespeople

Everyone’s heard the old proverb “You get what you pay for.” And no doubt everyone’s also very familiar with the trusty maxim “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” State Rep. Jim Moeller is determined to employ those two good bits of advice in putting the kibosh on bogus electricians, plumbers and other unqualified tradespeople.

His goal is to secure stronger protection both for consumers who want to hire qualified workers and for aboveboard contractors who don’t want to hire unqualified workers.

Since Moeller’s proposal hasn’t cleared legislative hurdles in the past few years, the Vancouver Democrat vows to restart his work in the upcoming session. His measure, House Bill 1055, would write state law requiring that tradespeople keep their licenses and certificates with them whenever they’re on the job. These subcontractors would need to show their paperwork if a homeowner asks to see it.

As it stands now, state law requires subcontractors in the building trades to obtain the appropriate licenses and certificates of competency and qualification. People who ignore the current law, as well as contractors and others who hire them, can face civil penalties. You might want to check this state Department of Labor & Industries Web site for information about hiring a contractor.

“The goal in this new law is simply to stop the dishonest, dangerous underground construction industry – particularly the deceitful hiring of unlicensed and uncertified tradespeople,” Moeller explained. “All we want is for these folks to possess evidence that they do indeed hold the right credentials and the right certification for the job.”

All too often, unlicensed and uncertified subs are hired to do some part of a project for less money. So then a consumer might think to himself or herself, ‘Oh, lucky me – this job isn’t costing as much as I thought it would!’ But remember that old proverb and that trusty maxim: There’s probably a very unfortunate reason the job’s costing less money. Moeller noted that folks “generally do get exactly what they pay for. And if they have safety or other problems later on, they’ll certainly wish they’d known more about the honor and professionalism of their contractors and subcontractors.”

Moeller also pointed out that underground contracting isn’t just a threat to consumer safety and peace of mind. It also gives bad-apple contractors an unfair business advantage over contractors who conduct their operations the right way.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted as this tradespeople-licensure legislation makes its way through the process in this year’s session.

In memory of Rep. Bill Grant

The House Democratic Caucus mourns the loss of our colleague and Caucus Chair, Rep. Bill Grant, who passed away on January 4, 2009. The following is his obituary, courtesy of his family.

Bill Grant, husband, father, dedicated family man and community leader, passed away Sunday, January 4, 2009 in a Walla Walla hospital with his family at his side.

Bill was born Sept. 20, 1937 to Sam and Irene Grant of Prescott, Washington. He attended Prescott Grade School and graduated from Prescott High School in 1955. He attended Whitman College where he lettered in football, basketball and track. Graduating in 1959 with a degree in Physical Education, Bill taught sixth grade the following year and coached all high school sports for the Prescott school district.

In 1960, he accepted an offer from his father to join the Grant family farm as a fourth generation wheat farmer. He remained active in all aspects of the farm until his death. His fervent desire to preserve the family farm was instilled by his father, his grandfather, Oscar Grant, and his great-grandfather, Jonathan Pettyjohn. Those closest to Bill knew he enjoyed the simple pleasures of farm life. Working in his beloved wheat fields, feeding cattle, watering his garden, or monitoring the weather gave him his greatest joy and satisfaction.

Besides being a man of the land, Bill was committed to serving our communities. First elected in 1986, Bill served twenty-two years as a state legislator of the 16th district. Upon his death, Bill was the longest-serving representative in the Washington State Legislature. He served twenty years on the powerful Appropriations Committee and since 1993 he has held the position of Democratic Caucus Chair. Bill was known as a man of his word, both honest and generous.

Some of Bill’s proudest political accomplishments in representing the 16th district included legislation benefiting Walla Walla Community College, economic development and W.S.U Tri Cities. As a champion of farming, agriculture was always on the forefront of Bill’s legislative agenda.

Bill was a member of many local and statewide organizations. He received numerous awards in recognition of his achievements.

Bill is survived by his wife of fifty years, Nancy, and four children: Gina Bull (Ron), Oak Harbor, WA.; Laura Grant-Herriot, Walla Walla; Amy Hartford (Jerry), Prescott, WA; Jonathan Grant (Fahima), Los Angeles, CA; eight grandchildren: Lindsay Braun (Jeffrey), Tacoma, WA.; Molly Schotzko (Tim), Pullman, WA.; Grant Bull (Erin), Oak Harbor, WA.; Lauren Hanson and Kathryn Hanson, Prescott, WA.; Samantha Grant-Herriot, Hope Grant-Herriot, and Marguerite Grant-Herriot, Walla Walla. Bill is also survived by his siblings Sam Grant, Jr. (Georgene), Mary Grant Tompkins (Lynn), John Grant (Patti),and Joe Grant, and by numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and a nephew, Frank Tompkins.

A funeral Mass will be held at noon, Saturday, January 10, 2009 at St. Patrick’s church in Walla Walla. A reception will follow at the William A. Grant Water and Environmental Center on the Walla Walla Community College campus.

Memorial contributions may be made to Walla Walla Community College Foundation or Prescott Ivy Cemetery.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

JTC hears draft ferry plan

The Joint Transportation Committee just wrapped up a meeting focused on the future of the state ferry system. Legislators got a sneak peek into a report that Washington State Ferries is finalizing (WSF), which takes a critical look at how the ferry system can overcome some troubling shortfalls and maintain its viability into the future.

As many of us saw last year, several ferries were suddenly
yanked out of service due to safety concerns, leaving many people in ferry communities in a lurch. To boot, other ferries still in service are aging (average age: 34 years) and, along with some aging terminals, are in need of capital investment. WSF was dealt a major blow several years ago with the elimination of the motor vehicle excise tax, a major source of ferry funding.

Since 2006 the Legislature has been taking a hard look at the ferry system from top to bottom. The focus is on ensuring safe, efficient service, and prioritizing new vessels over new terminals. The
long-term planning report discussed today is the result of HB 2358, passed in 2007. It examines the ways the system can recapitalize itself, try to alleviate capacity issues, and meet increasing ridership demands over the next 20 years. The report essentially outlines two plans?

Plan A assumes that the State will continue in its current role as owner, operator, and principal funder of ferry services in the Puget Sound region. Current level of service remains with operational strategies implemented over time and several new vessels coming online. This plan contains a significant budget shortfall that will require new revenues.

Plan B recognizes that the State may not be able to provide new revenues to meet the evolving needs of all ferry customers and communities, and looks at marine transportation very differently. It proposes an alternative where the State takes responsibility for the core marine highway system and a locally funded entity or entities would take responsibility for a new marine transit system. This option assumes operational strategies would be implemented over time. It also contains a budget shortfall, but it is significantly smaller than Plan A.

Today’s meeting isn’t the end of the story. WSF is soliciting public comment on the draft plan until January 21. before it finalizes the plan and sends it to the Legislature for consideration. Then, as House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said today, “This is just the beginning,” of the dialog over what kind of action will be taken this session.

No offense to our friend, Sam at the Bellingham Herald

But he's right, I did make sure to post our news here before he could go all Woodward & Bernstein on us...

Rep. Morris plans greater consumer protection and privacy laws for ‘09

Fresh off a legislative win last year that saw first-of-its-kind consumer protection laws enacted, State Representative Jeff Morris (D – Mount Vernon) is planning another bout against so-called “spy technology” devices.

Morris has waged a campaign against the malicious use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchips, which are turning up in more and more consumer products, as well as government-issued identification like driver’s licenses and passports.

Morris expects swift and fierce opposition to his proposals from corporate lobbyists and business interests that would like to see RFID chips embedded in any and all consumer products.

“The potential for marketing and convenience is great with this technology,” admits Morris. “But so is the threat to our privacy and freedom.”

To read the full text of the press release, click here.

Session theme songs

If you didn't get a chance to watch the AP Legislative Forum this morning, never fear. TVW will air it again tonight at 7 p.m.

Amidst the chatter and banter and a few slings and arrows, one interesting question posed to the Leadership panelists by the AP's Rachel LaCorte (far right) included their theme song or movie for the 2009 session. This question has become an annual tradition.

Rep. Richard DeBolt, the House Minority Leader, went first and responded that the Pursuit of Happyness reflected his philosophy that there is a path of opportunity for us, but we have to take the responsibility upon ourselves to get there.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown cited "Everything is Broken" by Bob Dylan. She read the ending lyrics...
Broken hands on broken ploughs / Broken treaties broken vows / Broken pipes broken tools / People bending broken rules / Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking / Everything is broken
...but then pointed out that this is our time to fix the broken pipes and keep moving forward.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt cited the Ohio Player's "Love Roller Coaster" apparently because it's reflective of our budget ups-and-downs.

House Speaker Frank Chopp simply pointed out his gratitude that DeBolt named Pursuit of Happyness as his session theme, not War of the Worlds.

Must-see TV - Associated Press Legislative Forum this morning

If you want a great preview of what's to come this session, tune in to TVW to watch the Associated Press Legislative Forum today at 9 a.m. TVW will also stream it live on their website.

The Associated Press hosts this forum every year and political reporters from around the state converge for a half-day of discussion with legislative leaders. Here's the schedule for today's forum:

The 9 a.m. Leadership panel will be moderated by the AP's Rachel LaCorte and features Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Minority Leader, Mike Hewitt, and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt.

The 10 a.m. Budget panel will be moderated by the AP's Curt Woodward and features Senator Margarita Prentice, Representative Kelli Linville, Senator Joe Zarelli, and Representative Gary Alexander.

Governor Gregoire is scheduled to speak at 11.

UPDATE: Turns out Governor Gregoire's Legislative Director, Marty Brown, will fill her 11 a.m. slot. The Gov had to cancel because she's in Iraq visiting Washington's Army National Guard troops.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bridge work: Legislators strive to help citizens traverse ‘digital divide’

What an unfortunate difference just a few years can make. From a solid standing in the top five less than a decade ago to a shaky 15th place today – that’s how far down in the broadband-access rankings the United States has tumbled.

The crucial work to bridge the “digital divide” in our own state is something legislators will continue to work on during the 2009 legislative session. This divide is the gap – it’s actually more of a chasm – between citizens who have broadband and citizens who don’t.

State Reps. John McCoy and Zack Hudgins recognize that broadband access is a major driver for job creation, economic development, and quality of life in general. McCoy, who chairs the House Technology, Energy & Communications Committee, and Hudgins, a member of this key technology panel, aim to advance Washington’s competitive edge by advancing Washington’s access.

“Dial-up Internet service just doesn’t cut it,” McCoy emphasizes. “Delivering high-speed access to thousands more Washington citizens is one of our biggest continuing challenges. Stronger access means creating the stronger education system we need to launch lasting, high-quality economic development.” Further, he adds, new technologies and Web applications such as telemedicine, telecommuting, and online education usually require higher bandwidths.

McCoy and Hudgins worked last session to help win support for a strong broadband-access measure. The legislation promotes development of a strategy for deploying high-speed Internet access across the state, particularly in underserved areas. State agencies are working with other public and private stakeholders that have a say-so in local community development and planning.

The 2008 measure is an important step toward identifying underserved and unserved areas. In crafting the bill, lawmakers enlisted input from the Communications Workers of America, the Progressive States Network, and industry representatives.

“The benefits of increasing high-speed Internet access aren’t limited to improving educational and economic-development opportunities,” Hudgins says. “We also stand to improve health care, public safety, and citizen participation in the decision-making process of government. We as a society don’t often have the opportunity to change lives as rapidly and as dramatically as we do with increased access to high-speed Internet connections. Our students can visit a museum in Rome, our local businesses can promote their products in Tokyo, and our doctors can diagnose and treat patients hundreds of miles away.”

McCoy says a 2006 survey by the federal Government Accountability Office found that households in rural areas are less likely to subscribe to broadband service than households in urban and suburban areas. Another recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that less than 25 percent of rural households have high-speed Internet access compared with 39 percent of urban and suburban households.

But broadband access certainly isn’t just an urban versus rural issue. The two lawmakers want to make sure that no community is left behind –anywhere.

Hudgins says that “there are neighborhoods in and around Seattle, which is one of the most wired cities in the whole country, where access is limited or non-existent. Some communities of color, minority and immigrant populations, and disabled citizens are struggling with the same lack of service.” He says the legislation includes grants for training and help for underserved and unserved populations.

The legislation approved last session ordered a work group to examine the access issue. The work group was directed to look at where we’re at and find strategies for getting where we need to be. Their recommendations are in their High-Speed Internet Deployment and Adoption Strategy report.

Rep. Zack Hudgins on plans to open the Tukwila-to-Seattle Light Rail

We asked State Representative and Tukwila resident Zack Hudgins for his thoughts on Sound Transit's plans to open its light-rail line between Seattle and Tukwila in July. Here's what he had to say:
After all the fights and hard work on light rail, it is very exciting to see a real target date for link light rail to be up and running – July 1, 2009. For years people in South Seattle, across Tukwila, and anyone driving to the airport saw the construction. Some residents of Beacon Hill and Tukwila could feel the heavy equipment in their neighborhoods and hear the workers early in the morning. I watched the pilings go up from my back yard. Then I watched the rails go in and recently I watched the trains being tested. It will really help our communities to have a quick, affordable, reliable, alternative to sitting in traffic.

But just as the station designs, and track path were contentious points of discussion, there are some concerns about the real impact on neighborhoods. For example, park and rides may fill up quickly with cars, so what happens to the overflow? Will residents be charged to park in their own neighborhood with new requirements for parking passes? Is the long elevator ride to the bottom of the Beacon Hill station and the tracks along Rainier avenue as safe as they are supposed to be and can be? What will the light rail do to development patterns along the route and will the train bring in more people and jobs to south Seattle? I am sure that Sound Transit will continue to work with the communities and neighborhoods affected by our leap forward in public transit.

I hope the communities and my neighbors ride the train into downtown – I know I can’t wait to avoid the parking headaches, and save the time in traffic as I head to Seattle.

The HDC mourns the loss of our own Rep. Bill Grant

Statement from Speaker Frank Chopp on the death of Representative Bill Grant, long-time Chair of the House Democratic Caucus:

“I am very saddened by the loss of Bill Grant, and my thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nancy, and his children and grandchildren.

“Bill was one-of-a-kind. He was a man of the land, and he brought his farmer’s values of community, hard work and perseverance to the House of Representatives where he served for 22 years. Throughout his career, everyone who met him appreciated his honesty, generosity, and wonderful sense of humor.

“I was proud to call Bill my colleague and grateful to call him my friend. He will be deeply missed.”


Rep. Grant's home paper, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, reports on his passing.