Friday, April 10, 2009

How does the UI bill story end?

The debate on the unemployment insurance bill started last night and just ended today at 4 p.m. The final verdict? Lawmakers in the state House voted to provide employers a tax break worth hundreds of millions, while offering a modest increase and better protections for unemployed workers.

Washington is the first and only state in the nation to reduce unemployment insurance rates for employers. Many other states are facing bankrupt UI trust funds brought on by skyrocketing unemployment, forcing them into tax increases for employers to sustain their benefit levels.

The bill was prompted by a non-conformity issue with federal law, which could have led to higher tax rates for businesses. This bill as passed by the House:

  • Uses the ample funds in the UI trust fund to mitigate the cost of federal conformity - a $452 million price tag – so employers are not forced to pay that cost.
  • Provides a permanent tax break for businesses in the form of lower tax rates. Over the next six years, businesses will see their tax rate decrease, saving them an estimated $224 million.
  • Includes a modest increase to the weekly benefit amount given to unemployed workers in Washington, and authorizes greater discretion to the commissioner of the state Employment Security Department to grant benefits in situations when a worker voluntarily quits.
You can read the full story here.

Now on the floor - the transportation budget.

The UI saga, to be continued today

As predicted, yesterday was a long day. Anyone watching the action on TVW saw lots of starts and stops as lawmakers went to the floor, ran a couple bills then returned to caucus.
Lawmakers adjourned at 12:30 this morning after starting, (and then rather abruptly ending) debate on the contentious unemployment insurance bill. (The Seattle Times has a short write-up of the bill, though it has morphed a bit as it's moved through the House and continues to change even now as amendments are added and removed then added back... oh, democracy.)
It's expected that the UI debate will continue today. It's also possible that we'll take up the House Transportation Budget on the floor, another lively debate to look forward to.

Lawmakers are scheduled to be back on the floor at 10 and it's uncertain just how late we'll go today.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Today will be a looooooong day

A few committees are meeting this morning, and then all members will head to the floor at 10 to start a very long day/night/early morning(?) of floor action.

Some potentially big bills may be up for a vote today so we'll keep you posted if it looks like we'll be moving 'em.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So it begins...

All-day floor action (with some all-nighters thrown in for fun).
Today, we will convene at 9:00 this morning, and consider the following bills on the floor before going to caucus:SSB 5368 – Annual property valuationSB 5413 – Assaulting a law enforcement officer
SSB 5468 – Nonprofit housing organizations
SSB 5469 – Intermediate vehicle license

Today will be a relatively short day. Lawmakers expect to adjourn around 4:30 in observance of Passover.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First term legislator takes the gavel on House floor

In a rare occurrence, Rep. Tina Orwall was asked to preside as Speaker over the House Floor. The Majority Floor Leader, Rep. Zack Hudgins, said that in all the time he has been running the House Floor for the Majority he hasn’t seen anyone step up to the job of presiding officer so quickly.

“Rep. Orwall was even-handed, and fair. She moved pieces of legislation along while overseeing debate on the House Floor. She was prepared and even had a sense of humor when members were slow to vote on a few measures to see how she would react. It was great to see a new member do so well leading the House deliberations,” said Hudgins.

Rep. Orwall accepted the challenge and, after receiving a brief orientation by the Speaker Pro Tempore and staff, stepped up to the rostrum to carry out the business of the people of Washington.

"I was honored by the opportunity to preside over the afternoon session of the Washington State House of Representatives,” said Orwall. “Especially as a new member of the Legislature, I am grateful to the Democratic Caucus leadership for putting their trust in me today.”

Who's calling?

It might be Rep. Marko Liias or Rep. Kevin Van De Wege. The two legislators are planning “virtual town hall meetings” via telephone with constituents tonight.

Here’s how it works: if you live in either of their districts, your phone may ring and you’ll be invited to stay on the line to participate directly in the town hall. Rep. Liias’ town hall will be from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., and Rep. Van De Wege’s will run from 7:15 to 8:15 p.m. Participants will have the opportunity to ask the representatives a question directly, as well as take part in polls.

“Virtual town halls” allow legislators to connect with thousands of people in their districts at once, and no one has to drive anywhere or arrange for childcare. They can take part from the comfort of their own homes and can stay on the line as long (or as little) as they want! Go here for more information about Liias's town hall, or here for info on on Van de Wege's town hall.

Today's Hot List

Going on right now:
The House Ways & Means Committee was scheduled to take action on the operating budget proposal yesterday but there were literally dozens and dozens of amendments to go through. The committee is meeting this morning and will hopefully pass the bill out of committee today.

Also, the House Capital Budget Committee is hearing the Washington Works Act proposed yesterday by Rep. Hans Dunshee to invest $3 billion into improving the health, safety and energy efficiency of our state schools and universities.

At 10 a.m., members will head to the floor and to caucus. There are some resolutions on the calendar and a lengthy list of bills to start running. Today marks the start of all-day floor sessions so everyone is gearing up for some late nights on the floor as we head in to the home stretch of the session.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rep. Pettigrew recognizes scholar-athletes on the Capitol Campus

Inspired by his intern’s ability to keep up with the fast-paced environment in Olympia, on the court, and in the classroom, Rep. Eric Pettigrew decided to officially recognize scholar-athletes with House Resolution 4647.

Approximately 100 students from colleges and universities throughout Washington state were invited to the Capitol to be honored for their academic accomplishments as scholar-athletes. Each student was recognized on the House floor for demonstrating outstanding academic success by meeting a minimum GPA of 3.0 and actively contributing to their community through volunteerism and/or involvement in student organizations.

“As a former student athlete, I’ll never forget the difficulties in attempting to spread my time between school, sports and other activities,” Pettigrew said. “These students exemplify what it means to go above and beyond. In addition to the countless hours they spend prepping for each game, they’ve acknowledged the importance of education and community involvement.”

Rep. Pettigrew also held a reception for the scholar-athletes, giving them the opportunity to meet with their respective district representatives.

Today's Hot List

After a Saturday marathon in House Ways & Means, the fiscal committees are wrapping up most of their work and slowing down as marathon days on the floor are set to begin later this week.

Today marks the fiscal cutoff, so only bills that are considered necessary to implement the budget (NTIB) are still in play in committees.

A couple items of note on today's schedule:

Noon - Rep. Hans Dunshee will announce a bond package that he says will create as many as 90,000 construction jobs in our state.

1:30 - The House Transportation Committee will take up the 520 tolling bill that was originally scheduled for action last week.

1:30 - The House Ways & Means Committee will vote on the House operating budget proposal.