Friday, February 6, 2009

House Democrats push through increased benefits for unemployed

House Democratic supporters of the bill dubbed it “Money for Main Street,” citing the immediate effect the added money will mean to families struggling to make ends meet, as well as the businesses that rely on them. The bill, HB 1906, increases unemployment-program benefits by $45 a week for workers in the program. Eligibility for retraining help is also broadened to take in honorably discharged veterans, disabled citizens, and low-wage workers.

“These are unemployed workers struggling to pay the rent, put food on the table, and buy shoes for their kids,” said Rep. Steve Conway, the sponsor of the bill. “They’re not high-end investors; they’re not hoarding this money. They’ll take this money to their local grocery store. And they’ll help that grocery store stay in business, as this money circulates throughout our economy.”

“This is a smart plan with a heart,” said Rep. Tina Orwall. “We understand the challenges people are facing, so we created this stimulus package designed to help struggling families and businesses, and to help them when they need it—which is now.”

Rep. Phyllis Kenney had this to say from the House Floor: “This bill is not just about un-employment, it’s really about re-employment. It’s about turning unemployment insurance from a passive income-maintenance program into an active tool for economic development.”

Read the full story here.

National Guard a late add to benefits bill

State Rep. Tim Probst offered an amendment this morning to make returning National Guard members eligible for unemployment training benefits. The bill previously applied only to honorably discharged military service members.

“This amendment will help about 650 National Guard members who will soon be returning from Iraq, and coming home to face unemployment in a tough economy," Probst said. "While they wait for their next tour of duty overseas, we need to support them and get them the training they need to find good jobs.”

You can read more about the amendment here:
Probst amendment to economic stimulus bill opens benefits to National Guard

Driscoll and Spokane family push transplant coverage fix

State Rep. John Driscoll and the Watley family testified Thursday on why an insurance coverage law loophole needs to be closed.

Fred Watley had been waiting for years -- with insurance coverage -- when all of a sudden he was told he had to wait six months. And the notice that he'd have to wait came right as his health deteriorated and he was at the top of the list for transplant surgery.

Find out more about what happened and the bill with the press release here:

Today's Hot List

8:00am in Education
Public Hearing: HB 1418 – Establishing a statewide dropout reengagement system.

1:30pm in State Government & Tribal Affairs
Public Hearing:
HB 1624 – Authorizing internet voting for service voters and overseas voters.
HJR 4202 – Amending the Constitution to allow seventeen year olds to vote in a primary if they will be eighteen years old by the next general election, and the primary is being held to select candidates for the November general election.

Also, as described below, today's floor action will be all about the Economic Security Act of 2009. The debate will start at 10 and you can watch on TVW.

House will up benefits for unemployed workers today

Speaker Frank Chopp, Representative Steve Conway, and Representative Tina Orwall will hold a press conference this morning at 9:30 to announce an increase in unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs due to the national economic nosedive.

Then at 10:00, members will go to the floor to debate and pass the measure (HB 1906). Dubbed the Economic Security Act of 2009, the bill will temporarily increase benefits for all unemployed workers $45 a week, and raise the minimum benefit from $129 per week to $155.

We'll post debate highlights and the result of the vote later today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Where'd that WASL memo go?

Students in the class of 2008 seem to be falling victim to some serious miscommunication about WASL requirements.

Confusion over the math WASL graduation requirement has left hundreds of students around the state at risk of not graduating because they did not know they needed to complete the test.

Rep. Marko Liias says there are about 150 students in his Edmonds School District who might not graduate, and he has legislation in the works to help some of those kids graduate, as long as they've met all other requirements.

KOMO 4 reported on the story last night.

Standing room only at Domestic Partnership hearing

Hundreds of people crowded into House Hearing Room A this morning to attend the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing on legislation that would broaden domestic-partnership rights. Even after opening a back wall and letting other people view the hearing on TV in another room, the scene remained standing-room only. More than 40 people registered to testify, with both supporters and opponents stating their positions for well over an hour. Despite occasionally heated rhetoric and swells of applause at times, the dialog remained civil and calm.

Built upon two years of successive legislation starting in 2007, HB 1727 would ensure that registered domestic partners receive equal treatment under state law as would a married couple. Bill sponsor Rep. Jamie Pedersen (Seattle), kicked off the testimony by outlining how it would help families, especially in the areas of public employee pension and survivorship benefits. He also noted how nearly 5, 000 domestic partners across all legislative districts have registered since 2007.

The debate continues later today in the Senate, where the Government Operations & Elections Committee will hear companion bill 5688, sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), at 3:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 2. Read more about this year’s domestic partnership legislation in this press release from last week. Or see what editorial boards across the state are saying here, here, and here.

Today's Hot List

8:00am in Finance
Public Hearing: HB 1633 – Providing excise tax exemptions for hog fuel used for production of electricity, steam, heat or biofuel.

8:00am in State Government & Tribal Affairs
Public Hearing:
HB 1289 – Campaign contributions to candidates for public lands commissioner.
HB 1436 – Regarding electronic filing of lobbying report.
HB 1572 – Adopting all mail voting.
HB 1598 – Approving the entry of Washington into the agreement among the states to elect the president by national popular vote.

10:00am in Judiciary
Public Hearing: HB 1727 – Expanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners.

1:30pm in Education Appropriations
Work Session: Presentation by Randy Dorn, Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Public comment on assessment systems.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rep. Pettigrew takes early learning up a grade

On Friday, the House Committee on Commerce & Labor will vote on Rep. Eric Pettigrew’s HB 1329, which addresses the need to prepare children for the future by providing them with a top notch education from the start.

“My motivation for sponsoring this bill is about one thing, and that is about children,” Pettigrew said during last week’s public hearing in front of the House Committee on Commerce & Labor.

HB 1329 creates an opportunity for child care directors and workers to collectively bargain with the state over matters within the state's purview to improve the quality of child care for Washington families.

Last year, a similar version of Pettigrew’s bill passed the House, but it was brought to a halt in the Senate. A number of notable changes are included in this year’s HB 1329. One significant alteration is that the bill requires the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to adjust subsidy rates for all child care centers in a DSHS region in order to match the rates reached through collective bargaining agreements for the same region. This means that even facilities that don’t participate in collective bargaining negotiations will still receive the negotiated increase subsidy rates.

This year, sponsors of HB 1329 include more than thirty representatives. In the Senate, Sen. Chris Marr (D-Spokane) has introduced SB 5572, which also provides collective bargaining for child care center directors and workers.

“When we talk about quality and we talk about invests we’ve made as it relates to early learning, an inconsistent system is not the way to go,” Pettigrew said. “This legislation actually provides us with an opportunity to create a more consistent system and close the gap between what we provide in dollars and what high quality learning actually costs.”

Rep. Upthegrove is ready for prime time

Tonight’s episode of The Impact on TVW (airing at 7 and again at 10) will feature Rep. Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines), chairman of the House Ecology and Parks Committee.

He’ll discuss the governor’s cap and trade bill (HB 1819), which he is prime sponsoring in the House. The segment will also include Rep. Shelly Short, freshman Republican and ranking minority member of the Ecology & Parks Committee.

Yesterday, over 50 people came from points near and far to testify on HB 1819 in a public hearing that lasted nearly three hours.

Rep. Upthegrove described the standing-room-only hearing as “democracy in action,” with everyone from paid lobbyists to ordinary grandmothers turning out to speak for or against the legislation.

Seaquist on the ferry system and Plan C

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, agrees with most of the Washington State Ferry system's users--proposed plans A and B won't work for anyone.

Seaquist takes a minute to talk about the situation and what Plan C might be:

For more information you can contact Seaquist through his website.

One cloudy forecast coming up

State Rep. Ross Hunter is a self-professed numbers guy. As chair of the House Finance Committee, he looks at a lot of numbers.

Now he gets to look at even more numbers as the newest member of the state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

If you're an avid fan of legislative news, you've no doubt seen that the council plans to release a "preliminary revenue forecast" on February 19.

Usually, the council doesn't release its numbers until mid-March.

What this means is that legislators, who have to figure out how to bridge a $7 billion (or more) shortfall, will have some much-needed, early information about what our revenue picture looks like.

Hunter probably isn't going to enjoy the February numbers too much, but recognizes how important it is for legislators to hear the news, for better or worse.

“Painting an accurate picture of our state’s economy is the first and most important step in building a budget that allows us to fulfill our promises for things such as quality basic education and public safety. If we don’t have a fairly accurate sense of how much revenue is coming in and where it’s coming from, legislators simply can’t do their job of building a responsible state budget.”

Hudgins continues march towards broadband-access for all

Rep. Zack Hudgins (D – Tukwila) wants his fellow lawmakers in the state Legislature to get behind a package of bills that build on his past work that accelerates the groundwork for reaching every corner of the state with broadband internet connections.

Hudgins saw first-hand the benefits brought to areas lacking internet services. “You want to talk about economic stimulus; Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the country. Without access to quick, reliable internet service, students will miss opportunities to explore the world beyond their textbooks, and small businesses will continue to struggle to move their products anywhere but locally.”

Hudgins’ package of bills received a public hearing in the House Committee on Technology and Energy & Communications today. He plans to work with stakeholders to reach consensus before a full vote of the House. Hudgins believes it’s important to get this strategy in place sooner rather than later, as Congress is poised to pass a federal stimulus package that includes a massive influx of $9 billion for a national Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, expanding service and computer center capacity.

Today's Hot List

8:00am in Judiciary
Public Hearing:
HB 1045 – Concerning home warranty rights.
HB 1393 – Addressing residential real property construction improvements through consumer education, warranty protections, contractor registration requirements and worker certification standards.

1:30pm in Education
Public Hearing:
HB 1646 – Making adjustments pertaining to the high school Washington assessment of student learning in mathematics and science.
HB 1562 – Changing the requirements for graduating without a certificate of academic achievement or a certificate of individual achievement.
HB 1341 – Motivating students through incentives to pursue postsecondary education by eliminating statewide assessments as a high school graduation requirement.

1:30pm in Environmental Health
Public Hearing: HB 1189 – Regarding retail store carryout bags.

3:30pm in Capital Budget Jt. w/ Ways & Means
Work Session: Review of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda and an overview of agency operating and capital base budgets for Puget Sound restoration and how they contribute to the Action Agenda.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tonight's hearing wrap-up on the Gov's proposal to boost unemployment benefits

In response to the tough economic times and the steady stream of layoffs we've witnessed around the state and country, the Governor and state legislators are taking quick action to boost the weekly benefits for all unemployed workers.

The House Commerce and Labor committee just completed a hearing on the governor's proposal, HB 1906, which would boost all unemployment benefits by $45 per week. Minority party members are concerned that we're sending mixed messages to the public by asking them previously to save, and now asking them to spend. But supporters of the legislation representing laid-off workers suggest there's no faster way to "mainline" money into our economy and foster the job-creating multiplier effect, than with increased benefits to the unemployed. Unlike other bailouts that have relied on a trickle-down effect, this will put money directly into the pockets of those who've suffered a job loss, helping keep them and the businesses that rely on them, from further erosion.

The Chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, Steve Conway, acknowledges the tough questions that face us, and no easy answers as we tread this unchartered territory. From his weekly dispatch to constituents in which he touches on the economic situation:
There are critical questions to answer: Do we rescue businesses with cash infusions, or will it take a federal make-work approach to keep people employed? And how do we keep our state’s safety net in place given the dramatic fall in state revenues?
Conway goes on to explain a little bit about his support for the legislation, stating, "Its purpose is simply incentive: More money in the economy, less tax burden, for employers so they can keep their employees working."

You can read more from Rep. Conway here.

"Katie's Law" mom urges passage of Miloscia DNA bill to save lives

Some House members wept openly as Jayann Sepich described the brutal murder of her daughter and how "Katie's Law" could spare other mothers the agony she has suffered. Sepich came from New Mexico to tell the House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee that legislation proposed by Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way) would save lives, prevent rapes and other brutal crimes, and exonerate the innocent.

"You have the opportunity to recommend legislation that has the power not only to solve crimes, but to prevent crimes and save lives," Sepich testified.

Miloscia's legislation (House Bill 1382) seeks to expand the state DNA database by taking DNA samples from persons arrested for felonies and other serious crimes.

As an example of how Miloscia's proposed law would save lives, Sepich showed that if the bill had been enacted in 2005 it would have prevented Anthony Dias from committing at least 8 brutal rapes in Washington state--including rapes of two sisters, ages 13 and 15, as their mother, bound and gagged, was helpless to protect her daughters.

"DNA helps us to protect the innocent and catch the bad guy," Miloscia said.

Read the full story here.

How would you balance the budget?

Feel like bringing out your inner economist?

The Governor's Office just posted an interesting online calculator to let you try your hand at balancing the budget. Check it out.

Democracy in action at packed climate change hearing

It was standing-room-only at this morning’s public hearing on House Bill 1819, the governor-requested bill that would move us towards a regional cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. Rep. Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines) is prime sponsor of the bill in the House and chairman of the Ecology and Parks committee, which heard the bill today.

The testimony continued beyond the allotted two hours, but Rep. Upthegrove announced at the hearing’s commencement that everyone who wished to testify would be able to do so. Those speaking were limited to two minutes each, including the governor’s representatives, Keith Phillips of the Office of the Governor, and Jay Manning of the state Department of Ecology.

Although there were plenty of lobbyists among the 50+ people who signed in to speak, the most compelling testimony came from regular citizens on both sides of the issue.

“The citizens stole the show,” Rep. Upthegrove said afterwards. “There were people who came from the four corners of the state. I was impressed with how far people were willing to travel for the chance to speak for two minutes on an issue they feel very strongly about.”

Those in favor of the bill touted what they say is its potential to create new jobs and industries here in Washington, and for our state to emerge as a leader in the clean technology movement. David Allen of McKinstry Company, a mechanical contractor based in Seattle, said that “green” products and services is “no longer a niche – it’s the future of economic growth.”

Opponents of the bill raised concerns about potential job losses due to regulations on businesses and industry. Nick Sherwood, who testified as a member of the general public, asked the committee, “How can further regulation on business provide economic stability?”
Members of the committee from both sides of the aisle pledged to read written testimonies and handouts passed out to them by those speaking. Those handouts and the comments made today will certainly help legislators as they continue to consider the bill.

Last night's ferries meeting

Yesterday evening’s ferry-focused Transportation Committee meeting drew quite a crowd. Not only did Washington State Ferries (WSF) present its much-anticipated long-range ferry plan, but the committee also held a public hearing on two high-profile ferry bills. More than 20 people arrived to testify, including many representatives from ship-building companies around the Puget Sound.

One of the ferry bills, HB 1652, would remove a requirement that Washington state ferries be constructed in state. Sponsored by Rep. Christine Rolfes, the bill has bi-partisan support and it comes at the same time as WSF finalizes a long-range ferries plan that suggests ways to put the system back on sound footing. WSF has struggled to maintain its vessels and service levels since a major source of funding, the state motor vehicle excise tax, was eliminated in 1999.

During her presentation of the long-range ferry plan, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond noted that during the state’s two most recent ferry vessel procurement periods, only one bid came in each time.

Some people point to this as evidence that opening up construction competition to out-of-state bidders would result in cost savings to taxpayers. But shipbuilding representatives counter that out-of-state building brings its own additional costs in terms of transporting the vessel back to Puget Sound, loss of tax benefits to the state, and loss of the in-state economic “multiplier effect” that construction provides.

Monday’s meeting was just the first of many high-profile ferry meetings to come this session.

Today's Hot List

10:00am in Commerce & Labor
Public Hearing: HB 1528 – Prohibiting certain employer communications about political or religious matters.

10:00am in Ecology & Parks
Public Hearing: HB 1819 – Design of a cap and invest system in Washington.

10:00am in Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness
Public Hearing: HB 1382 – Expanding the DNA identification system.

1:30pm in Finance
Public Hearing: HB 1387 – Repealing nonresident exemptions from tax on retail sales.(Note: Despite what some may think, the repealed sales tax exemptions do not include sales of boats or motor vehicles)

3:30pm in Capital Budget
Work Session: Joint Legislative School Construction Funding Task Force.
Public Hearing: HB 1618 – Concerning community and surplus schools.

6:00pm in Commerce and Labor
Public Hearing: HB 1906, based on Governor's Unemployment Insurance package.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hudgins hosts local artists of the 11th exhibit

Representative Zack Hudgins' office under the dome of the Washington State Capitol has become an art gallery. Thirty-two paintings and photographs on the historic walls fill the room with images of orange cranes, bridges at night, and lights shining on darkened streets.

Hudgins explained the impetus for the art show: After placing in the power tool race at the Georgetown old school fair (he received an honorable mention award), Hudgins met several artists from the neighborhood and asked them if they wanted to show their work in his office. “South Park and Georgetown are known for their arts community – right in the middle of the largest industrial area in our state. The artists were thrilled at the idea, and their work is now on display in my office and I am thrilled to have it.”

Stop by and check out the cool local works at the Artist Reception: February 4, 2009, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

And take the virtual tour:

It's a very ferry day

If you’re into ferry issues, today is your day.

We already heard from Governor Gregoire this morning that five unions representing more than 1,000 state ferry workers have agreed to halt worker raises, a move that will save $18 million and help prevent layoffs.

And in this afternoon’s House Transportation Committee, legislators will focus on a couple of interesting ferry construction issues including the idea of allowing out-of-state builders to construct ferries. TVW is scheduled to air the committee hearing live, so tune in or watch online at

3:30pm in Transportation
Public Hearing:
HB 1209 – Providing funding for passenger-only ferry construction.
HB 1652 – Eliminating a requirement that certain ferry vessels be constructed within the boundaries of the state of Washington.

House to vote on Early Action Savings Bill shortly

The full House of Representatives will vote momentarily on SHB 1694, the Early Action Savings bill. This measure will save $636 million from the operating budget between now and June 30, 2009.

It is very rare for the Legislature to act on budget matters this early in session, according to Ways and Means Chair Kelli Linville (D-Bellingham).

"This is just the first step in addressing the uprecedented fiscal situation facing not only our state, but most of the world," said Linville. "The earlier we start these cuts, the more money we save."

Unlike at the federal level, the House process has been very bipartisan so far. SHB 1694 passed from the Ways and Means committee last week with only two "nay" votes.