Friday, January 23, 2009

Dispatches from the Capital

As a regular feature of our blog, we'll try to provide readers a more direct link to their legislators, a behind-the-scenes approach bringing you thoughts, observations, and the news that falls through the cracks elsewhere.

Turning the spotlight to Rep. Steve Conway, who represents portions of Parkland, Lakewood, University Place, and South Tacoma in the 29th LD. Here are his thoughts on the '09 legislative session so far:
"If there is one single issue dominating our attention, it’s the budget deficit. Estimated to be upwards of $5 billion, that’s nearly 20 percent of our state budget. On Monday we began to consider our options in the Ways & Means committee – the primary committee that shapes our final budget. So many important programs are threatened with termination, ranging from Readiness to Learn programs for kids, to major cuts to basic health care for adults.

We also got our first glimpse into two very important documents: the emergency job-creation stimulus packages proposed by Governor Gregoire and newly elected President Obama. Both include plans to improve unemployment insurance and workforce training options this year. The President’s plan also includes efforts to help the unemployed with health insurance.

These initiatives must be our first priority in both Olympia and Washington D.C. As Chair of the House Commerce and Labor committee, I’ve begun hearings and discussions on the Governor’s unemployment insurance proposal this week. In the days and weeks ahead, I invite all of you to share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with me. I want to hear from those of you most affected by this economic downturn."
Rep. Conway can be reached at: 360-786-7906 or

What's hot in the House next week?

Monday 1/26/09
1:30pm in Technology, Energy & Communications
Public Hearing: HB 1007 – Creating a sustainable energy trust.

1:30pm in Judiciary
Public Hearing:
HB 1148 – Protecting animals from perpetrators of domestic violence

HB 1150 – Providing civil remedies for damages to a companion animal

3:30pm in Ways & Means
Work Session: Report and Recommendations of the Basic Education Finance Task Force.

Tuesday 1/27/09
10:00am in Education
Public Hearing: HB 1075 – Enacting the interstate compact on educational opportunity for military children.

1:30pm in Health Care & Wellness
Public Hearing: HB 1123 – Reducing the spread of multidrug resistant organisms (MRSA).

1:30pm in State Government & Tribal Affairs
Public Hearing: HB 1051 – An increase in veterans’ access to the state and federal assistance programs.

Wednesday 1/28/09
8:00am in Local Government & Housing
Work Session: Report to Legislature – Land Use and Climate Change Advisory Committee.

1:30pm in Education
Public Hearing: HB 1356 – Providing for career and technical education opportunities for middle school students.

1:30pm in Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Public Hearing: HB 1385-Modifying provisions related to sexual misconduct by school employees (remember the recent story about the Hoquiam teacher and 18-year-old student?)

6:00pm in Education Appropriations
Work Session: Basic Education Finance Task Force report.

Public Hearing: HB 1410 – Creating a comprehensive system of public education programs, finance and accountability (the BIG basic ed funding bill)

6:00pm in General Government Appropriations
Public Hearing: Increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and/or exploring areas for additional cost savings within the State Parks & Recreation Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Thursday 1/29/09
10:00am in Technology, Energy & Communications
Public Hearing: HB 1481 – Creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by supporting development of electronic vehicle infrastructure and electric vehicles.

1:30pm in General Government Appropriations
Work Session: Increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and/or exploring areas for additional cost savings within the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Ecology and the Department of Agriculture.

Today's Hot List

8:00am in Commerce & Labor
Public Hearing: HB 1055 – Requiring workers to have licenses, certificates, or permits in their possession when performing work in certain construction trades.

8:00am in Ecology & Parks
Work Session: Western Climate Initiative (WCI) overview & recommendations.

8:00am in Higher Education
Work Session: Matching workforce supply and demand in high demand occupations.

1:30pm in Finance
Work Session: Review of Economic and Revenue Forecasting Models; Dr. Arun Raha, Executive Director, Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Choppers, choice and spinal manipulation

It’s a common (and often inspiring) sight to see groups of regular folks come to Olympia and make a case for legislation. It’s also common practice that groups on opposing sides of an issue converge in Olympia at about the same time. Take today as one example.
As reported by the Seattle Times, chiropractors and physical therapists are in Olympia today to “square off” over the right to manipulate your spine. That explains all the yellow umbrellas and red fleece jackets peppering the capitol campus.

Then there were the pro-choice advocates who rallied today on the capitol steps to celebrate the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This followed a demonstration by the anti-choice folks who were here in full force yesterday.

In addition, members of the Washington State Confederation of Clubs (a motorcycle club advocacy group) were in Olympia lobbying for an anti-profiling bill that would “condemn and prevent the widespread law enforcement practice of motorcycle profiling.” In this case, we didn’t see any groups lobbying against the anti-profiling bill. We can’t imagine why no one wants to take this group on… We'll pass any legislation these guys want.

Rep. Sells fights spying on students, teachers

A couple of years ago an English and Journalism Cascade High School teacher was fired because a hidden camera caught her in the act… of helping students put together an underground newspaper.

According to Everett lawmaker, Rep. Mike Sells, the school made a big mistake secretly videotaping teachers and students. Sells has introduced HB 1262 requiring school districts to notify students, teachers and school staff if they’re under video surveillance.

“The point here is not whether the students’ paper should have gone underground to avoid censoring by school district officials, nor if the teacher and her students were violating any rules,” said Sells, “the point of my bill is that regardless of what they were working on in that classroom, they should have been notified that there was a chance they’d be on camera.”

Sells' bill awaits a hearing in the House Education Committee.

Say "ta-ta" to toxic flame retardants

In 2007, Rep. Ross Hunter finally won a three-year battle against chemical companies that manufacture toxic flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. These chemicals are found in everything from mattresses to televisions, and research has linked exposure to the chemical with a wide range of adverse health effects, particularly in children.

Hunter’s legislation made Washington the first state in the nation to ban all forms of the chemical. But before the legislation could go into effect, the state Department of Ecology and state Department of Health were asked to work with a fire safety committee and the state Fire Marshal to identify safer, less toxic flame retardants that still meet fire safety standards.

The good news? Their recommendations are finally complete. As reported by the Department of Ecology:
This report triggers the state ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of televisions, computers and residential upholstered furniture containing Deca-BDE by January 2011.

"This is an expected step in a careful process – a finding that there are safer alternatives to Deca and other brominated flame retardants," said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue. “This is a great step towards increased environmental safety for children."
Bottom line – the new sofa or computer you've had your eye on will soon be available without the toxic additives.


According to our parliamentarian brethren across the pond, the word, “Whip” is a hunting term from the 18th century, referring to the hunter’s assistant tasked with rounding up the stray hunting dogs...

Blah, blah, blah. All I know is, here in America, when a problem comes along, we ask ourselves, “WWDD (What Would Devo Do)?” The answer: You Must Whip It.

These days, this task falls to a few newly elected members of the state House Democratic Caucus who must round up our stray colleagues when it’s time to vote. And with so many goings-on here under the dome, that task can sometimes be more difficult than it seems.

The HDC yesterday elected three new Assistant Majority Whips; Reps. Reuven Carlyle, Scott White, and Fred Finn. They’ll play a vital role working with Democratic leadership to organize and coordinate caucus members on the House Floor, ultimately passing an agenda that reflects our philosophy of One Washington.

Here are Reps. Carlyle, Finn, and White on their new leadership role:

Rep. Reuven Carlyle:
“I’m deeply honored to have been asked by leadership and elected by my peers to join the team and work to actively push bold legislation as we tackle the real deal issues facing our state. As we strive to breathe new life into our public service at the state and national levels, I hope this position helps me to play a modest role here in the House to move forward with a 21st Century agenda.”
Rep. Fred Finn:
“It’s an honor to be elected Assistant Majority Whip for the House of Representatives this session. We have a great deal of work to do in the state capital this year, and I look forward to helping keep my colleagues moving in a productive direction.”
Rep. Scott White:
"It is a great honor to be selected by my Democratic colleagues to serve as Assistant Whip. We will face many difficult challenges this legislative session and I am committed to working with Representatives from throughout our great state to find solutions."
And we in the HDC are honored that they will now whip it into shape. Shape it up. Get straight. Go Forward. Move ahead...

Today's Hot List

The House will continue looking into the base budgets of state agencies today, looking for efficiencies and cuts as they work to meet a $6 billion shortfall. The Appropriations committees meet at 1:30 p.m.

8:00am in Agriculture & Natural Resources
Public Hearings:
HB 1114 – Regarding youth hunting privileges.

HB 1116 – Requiring visible clothing while recreating in a mixed-use area during hunting season.

10:00am in Community & Economic Development & Trade
Work Session: The Governor’s 2009 Economic Stimulus Strategy.

10:00am in Human Services
Work Session: General Assistance-Unemployable: In-depth look at services and resources.

1:30pm in Education Appropriations
Work Session: Levy equalization funded and programs funded by I-728 (classroom size reduction)

1:30pm in General Government Appropriations
Work Session: Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development – Agency overview and review of the Governor’s Biennial and Supplemental Budget Proposals.

Public Hearing: Increasing the efficiency, effectiveness, and/or exploring areas for additional cost savings within the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, the Office of the Secretary of State, and the Department of Information Services.

1:30pm in Health & Human Services Appropriations
Work Session:
1. Overview of the Children and Family Services (DSHS) Base Budget.
2. Overview of the Governor’s Proposed 09-11 Budget for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

House fiscal committees to review seven state agency budgets

Facing an anticipated $6 billion shortfall, members of the House fiscal committees must ensure that state government remains financially sound while providing appropriate services to all Washingtonians. That will require the chairs of these committees to make tough decisions every day.

The Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, is tasked with increasing government efficiency while providing vital services to some of the most vulnerable populations in the state.

At 6 p.m. today, the Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee will review the base budgets for the Health Care Authority, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Vocational Rehabilitation (DSHS), and Labor & Industries. The meeting will be held in the John L. O’Brien Building, Hearing Room B (Olympia).

The Government Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeannie Darneille, will also convene at 6 p.m. today to review Gov. Gregoire’s biennial and supplemental budget proposals for the Department of the Military, Liquor Control Board, and Department of Revenue. The meeting will be held in the John L. O’Brien Building, Hearing Room C (Olympia).

Both committees will continue to hold public hearings to address opportunities for increasing efficiency and effectiveness while providing appropriate services statewide.

MSP + HSPE = WCAP: Dorn’s WASL proposal

If our new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, gets his way, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (or WASL) will morph into what he calls the Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program (WCAP) which will consist of two tests: the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) for grades 3-8 and the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE).

You can check out the details of his proposal for yourself here and here. Essentially Dorn wants to make the tests shorter, less expensive and more responsive by changing the format and increasing use of technology. His plan would make the new tests available to schools by 2010, with full implementation by 2012. Passing the HSPE would remain a graduation requirement.

Many aspects of Dorn's proposal closely mirror the work of the legislative work group that looked at ways to improve the WASL.

Rep. Pat Sullivan served on that work group and his reaction to Dorn's proposal can be heard here.

TVW just posted Dorn's press conference online.

Lawmakers say thanks but no thanks to raises this year

As reported by Jennifer Sullivan at the Seattle Times, Rep. Lynn Kessler and Senator Ed Murray are asking the citizen committee that determines lawmaker salaries to skip the pay raises this year.

Sullivan reports:

Kessler argued that raising their $42,000-per-year salary seemed unfair when people across the state are losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet. The commission met at a downtown Olympia hotel to hear testimony from lawmakers on whether they should give officials in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of state government a raise.

"I sincerely believe we're all in this together," Kessler testified before the commission. "We're all tightening our belts."

The Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials will hold several additional public meetings before making its decision in June.

Today's House Hot List

1:30pm in Education
Work Session: Building Bridges dropout prevention program

1:30pm in Environment Health
Public Hearings:
HB 1165 – Providing for the safe collection and disposal of unwanted drugs from residential sources through a producer provided and funded product stewardship program (prescription drug recycling).

HB 1180 – Regarding the use of bisphenol A (this is the baby-bottle bill).

3:30pm in Ways & Means
Work Session: Briefing on state funding for K-12 public schools

6:00pm in Health and Human Services Appropriations
Work Session:
1. Overview of the Health Care Authority Base Budget
2. Overview of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Base Budget
3. Overview of the Vocational Rehabilitation (DSHS) Base Budget
4. Overview of the Labor & Industries Base Budget

6:00pm in General Government Appropriations
Public Hearing: Increasing the efficiency, effectiveness, and/or exploring areas for additional cost savings within the Department of the Military, Liquor Control Board, and Department of Revenue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A More Perfect Union

The HDC congratulates Barack Obama on today becoming the 44th President of the United States and we celebrate with him the continuity of the world's greatest democracy. We wish President Obama success in these challenging times and hold out hope on this ever present journey towards a more perfect union.

Today's House Hot List

1:30pm in State Government & Tribal Affairs
Public Hearing: HB 1024 – Designating Aplets and Cotlets as the state candy.

3:30pm in Capital Budget
Work Session: Joint Legislative Task Force on School Construction Funding briefing.

Light breaking through the fog

An image of the capitol building many of us are used to, but seemed significant today.

...we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. - John Winthrop

Monday, January 19, 2009

Legislators reflect on what MLK Day means to them

Always a significant and somber day of reflection at the Capital, legislators on the House Floor marked MLK Day by passing a resolution honoring the civil rights leader, and celebrating his legacy.

Rep. Bob Hasegawa, who represents the 11th LD, spoke to us about the struggles still ahead in reaching true equality for all:
"Kids in elementary school today are learning
about Martin Luther King, Jr., his life and struggle are in books all over the world. When I was that age we didn’t have an African American hero anywhere in the school curriculum. We’ve certainly come a long way even though it really hasn’t been that long. Some folks take for granted the lessons of the Civil Rights movement and see it as a done deal, but I believe there’s a lot of work still to be done. Equality and justice have not yet reached everybody. Race and poverty are still intertwined; that’s an undeniable reality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a fighter who never gave up. Let us honor his memory emulating his example; let’s continue fighting relentlessly to make sure his dream is not forgotten or left to collect dust in the pages of a book."
Rep. Phyllis GutiƩrrez-Kenney from Seattle also reflects on the victories, and victories yet to be won:
"As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, may his life serve as a reminder to all of us that we must continue fighting oppression, intolerance and violence to become a nation whose citizens truly care for each other. Let our commitment to his ideals of equality, justice and freedom not falter. We cannot afford to become complacent. Whether one is African American, Latino, White, Asian, or other, it is important to build on Dr. King’s dream by working together. The fact that tomorrow is the inauguration of our first African American president is yet another piece of evidence that Dr. King’s struggle was not in vain. We still have a ways to go in order to reach his dream but I am hopeful that together we will get there."
When asked what the work of Martin Luther King Jr. meant to them, Rep. Flannigan from Tacoma had this to say:
"It was Dr. King and those who inspired him and were inspired by him that expanded the American heart to include all colors in America’s rainbow. President Obama is Dr. King's legacy. Wow."
And Rep. Larry Springer from Kirkland:
"Dr. King inspired a nation to recognize and listen to the better angels present in us all, which even today continues to change the face of America."

Watch the entire day's floor action, including the resolution commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. here.

Bipartisan group of legislators to introduce bill that overhauls state’s K-12 system

The task force that spent nearly two years reviewing Washington’s definition of “basic education” and how to pay for it has released its final recommendations for an overhaul of the state’s K-12 funding system.

The proposals start with a new definition of “basic education,” a definition that encompasses the state’s legal and constitutional obligation to fund kindergarten through 12th grade. The new definition takes a “start with the end goal in mind” approach that links graduation requirements with the program of education necessary for children to have a viable opportunity to meet those requirements, and gain an education that helps them be college or work ready.

The report goes on to recommend that the Legislature move from a finance system based on funding levels to one based on service levels. In other words, instead of deciding to send a district $1 million for class size reduction (a number that doesn’t say much about how many students-per-class that translates to), legislators would decide to fund 25 students per teacher.

The task force further recommends that the Legislature:
  • Eliminate increases in teacher pay for obtaining degrees and instead reward teachers for earning certification and demonstrate competence through a new peer evaluation system;
  • Create a comprehensive mentoring program for new teachers;
  • Provide bonuses to schools that demonstrate growth in academic achievement;
  • Address district inequities by eliminating grandfathered salary differences and various levy lids;
  • Address the persistent achievement gap by providing resources so disadvantaged children will receive significantly more instructional time to help them catch up;
  • Increase accountability by requiring districts to use common accounting and student information systems to be provided by the state; and
  • Include early learning for at-risk students in the definition of basic education.
The next steps are up to the Legislature. Representatives Pat Sullivan (D-Covington), Ross Hunter (D-Medina), Skip Priest (R-Federal Way), and Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City) will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss their bill to set these recommendations into motion.

The full report can be found online here. Legislators have also prepared a summary that can be found online here. The Legislature will ultimately have to approve any of the recommended changes.

Today's House Hot List

1:30pm in Human Services
Public Hearing: HB 1076 – Allowing crime victims to submit input to the Department of Corrections regarding an offender’s placement in work release.

3:30pm in Capital Budget
Public Hearing/Possible Executive Session: HB 1113 – Financing the school construction assistance program (2009 Supplemental Capital Budget for K-12)

6:30pm in Education
Work Session: Achievement Gap Studies

1. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Tribute.
2. Background of Achievement Gap Studies.
3. African American Students: Center for the Improvement of Student Learning.
4. Asian American Students: Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
5. Pacific Islander American Students: Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
6. Native American Students: Governor’s Office on Indian Affairs.
7. Hispanic American Students: Commission on Hispanic Affairs.