Friday, April 17, 2009

House approves 520 bridge-replacement funding framework

Late this afternoon, the House approved legislation introduced by Rep. Judy Clibborn (Mercer Island), chair of the Transportation Committee, that outlines a funding framework for the replacement of the SR-520 bridge across Lake Washington, including the authorization to begin tolling.

On the House floor, Clibborn and Rep. Larry Springer both made reference to this being a historic decision, capping more than 10 years of discussions and analysis of how to replace the 1963-built bridge, which is vulnerable to failure in a severe earthquake or windstorm.

The bill allows for early tolls (that is, before the new bridge is in place) in order to back the sale of bonds to finance the construction of the floating bridge. The idea of early tolling is a new concept for Washington, but polling conducted last summer showed well over sixty percent of area residents supported the idea of early tolling, as it would result in a lower overall price tag for the bridge replacement. Using today’s dollars to begin construction is less expensive than borrowing money now for construction to pay back with toll revenue that starts in the distant future. In the latter scenario, toll rates would be much higher.

The project is capped at $4.65 billion with HB 2211, a significant portion of which will be paid for with existing state dollars, such as gas-tax revenues, in addition to tolls. A 520 workgroup is also created in the bill, which will recommend bridge design options and a specific financing strategy by January 2010. The bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to approve it as well.

Go Green / Save Green on Earth Day

On April 22 we mark the thirty-ninth anniversary of Earth Day.

From the state Department of Ecology's Jay Manning and the folks doing great work over there:
"Do you know the Washington state connections to that first Earth Day? The first announcement about Earth Day was made at a conference held in Seattle in 1969, by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in September. The coordinator of that seminal event, Denis Hayes, grew up in Camas. Since 1992, Denis has served as president of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle."
DOE's created a very helpful website to help you save money and reduce your impact on the planet all at the same time.

Visit their website here.

Here are some highlights of the resources available on the Ecology site:
"Go Green, Save Green” tips for saving money on energy, transportation and water

"Shrink Your Carbon Footprint”: tips and an online carbon pledge

“Washington Waters – Ours to Protect”: actions all of us can take to keep our waters clean and healthy

Earth Week community events around the state

Toxic Free Tips

“Be the Difference, Breathe the Difference”: alternatives to outdoor burning

“Ecology for Business”
business assistance

Rep. Pettigrew and advocates express support for a temporary sales tax increase

At a news conference today, Rep. Eric Pettigrew and more than half a dozen advocates, shared the harsh realities of implementing the proposed cuts to the operating budget while expressing support for HB 2377.

Pettigrew said that neglecting to fund vital services such as public health, health care for low-income families and long-term care services could be detrimental to our most vulnerable populations statewide.

“We can never underestimate the power of connecting these people with the services they need, in the way they need to receive them,” Pettigrew said when talking about potential cuts to adult day health care.

Nora Gibson, Executive Director of ElderHealth Northwest, spoke about the adverse consequences of cutting funding for an adult day health program in Oregon. The result was the death of twenty percent of the patients and a tremendous cost increase to move fifty percent of the remaining patients into a higher level of care.

Pettigrew said that the decisions made in our current proposed budget were made in the best interest of the people while utilizing what we currently have.

However, additional revenue is still needed to restore many of the programs that support the safety net. He said that by providing voters with an option to temporarily increase the sales tax, we can alleviate many of the devastating cuts and potential cost increases in the future.

As for the Working Families Tax Rebate, Washington would be the first state in the nation to implement this rebate while not collecting an income tax. Remy Trupin of the Budget & Policy Council said that this tax refund will benefit low-income and moderate-income families.

If working late were cool, we'd be Miles Davis

We've reached another cut-off today. At 5pm, we will no longer consider opposite house bills, except those bills deemed necessary to implement the budget

We've spent many a late night passing bills, ending at, around, even after midnight each night this week, only to return at 8am to hold more committee hearings on the budget and start all over again.

Speaking of, the House Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, is currently underway, hearing public testimony on HB 2377 - the proposal to send to the voters of Washington a temporary increase in the state sales tax to help pay for health care and critical safety net programs. Watch it live at TVW here

Joe Turner at the News Tribune has more on the hearing at his blog here.

Following the hearing, House members will blearily return to the Floor to vote on one last package of bills.

PS: Cool as Miles Davis? Impossible.

It's Friday...

And it's nearing the end of a very busy week. Members adjourned early this morning and will be back to the floor at 10 a.m.

Yesterday's game plan of running the 520 tolling bill changed. So we won't even venture to guess what we'll run today. But today is last call for most bills. 5:00 p.m. is the cutoff for all bills except those considered "necessary to implement the budget" (NTIB).

Right now, the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee is holding a public hearing on HB 2377, the temporary sales tax increase that voters could approve to pay for health care services and the Working Families Tax Rebate.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew, sponsor of the bill, and a lineup of health care advocates will talk to the press later this morning following the hearing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Basic

So says the sticker that dozens of lawmakers have been wearing these days.

The Senate just approved
HB 2261, the basic education funding bill that Reps. Pat Sullivan and Ross Hunter have been working on relentlessy, along with Republican Rep. Skip Priest. If passed and signed by the Governor, it will be the most significant change to our state's K-12 funding system in 30 years.

The House passed the bill last month and since then numerous education advocacy groups and editorial boards and columnists have pushed for the Senate to pass the House's bill (here, here and here, for example).

You can read
Sullivan's statement regarding the Senate's actions today. The bill now comes back to the House for consideration.

(Photo from Publicola)

UPDATE: Check out the statements from numerous education groups supporting passage of the bill.

Today's game plan

The House Ways & Means Committee is spending the first half of the day working through a couple dozen bills.

Members will head to the floor around 1:30. It's expected to be another late night. The plan so far includes running several transportation bills including the 520 tolling legislation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

House approves equal rights for domestic partners

In one of the most closely watched debates of this session, the House this afternoon passed legislation to broaden domestic-partnership rights. Senate Bill 5688, sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray, garnered bipartisan support and will ensure that registered domestic partners receive all of the state law rights and responsibilities of married spouses. Rep. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the identical companion bill in the House (HB 1727), led a broad group of supporters who spoke out on the House floor today. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for her expected approval.

Roughly 5,200 domestic partnerships are registered with the Secretary of State, spanning 278 cities and towns across the entire state in every legislative district. Key rights and obligations in this bill include death benefits for the partners of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty, pension benefits for the partners of teachers and other public employees, the right to adopt a partner’s child without paying for a home study and more.

In total, the bill adds about 280 rights and obligations to the 197 already provided under the exiting domestic partnership law so that state registered domestic partners and married couples are treated the same for all state law purposes. This legislation builds on two previous years of legislation in 2007 and 2008.

Welcome Seattle PostGlobe

They're baaaack.

Some of them, at least. A group of now-former Seattle P-I columnists and reporters have launched a new news site, Seattle PostGlobe.

With all the chatter about the struggling media industry and our own observations about what it all means, we're happy to see these folks forging ahead. Congratulations to the PostGlobe "staff" (who happen to be doing this on a volunteer basis for now) and best of luck. You're on our press lists!

We'd be remiss to not point out their blog featuring a short story about Rep. Hunter's House Bill 1498 which strengthens gun-safety legislation for people with mental illness.

House adjorned at 1:15 this morning; due back in at 10:00

After more than three hours of debate that stretched into the wee hours of this morning, the House passed important legislation that sets guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our state (SB 5735). About 20 amendments were offered and the discussion was very heated at times. But ultimately the bill was approved and sent back to the Senate for their consideration of House amendments.

There will be more excitement on the floor today as we debate measures to extend additional rights and responsibilities to registered domestic partners in our state and elect the President of the United States by popular vote.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another victory for Spokane's Fred Watley...

Gov. Gregoire yesterday signed Rep. John Driscoll's bill to ensure that when an employer changes insurance companies, their employees aren’t subjected to organ transplant waiting periods.

This isn't a hypothetical situation. The employee in question was Fred Watley of Spokane, and when the time came for his liver transplant, his new insurance company said no.

“Most people would assume that their coverage isn’t drastically changed when their employer switches insurance companies,” said Driscoll, D-Spokane. “Unfortunately Fred found one area that really is affected, but with his help we’re going to make sure it never happens again.”

Fred, with the help of his wife LiAnne, helped their insurance company realize that the waiting period shouldn't apply to them. Victorious, they weren't going to settle with just saving his life. When he got on his feet again, they set out to prevent others from running into the same life-threatening problem.

More about their story can be found here: Spokane family testifies for organ transplant coverage fix

House floor at ease this morning for committee

There is no floor action planned in the House this morning so that the Ways and Means committee can hear a long list of bills that are considered necessary to impement the budget (what you commonly hear people on the hill refer to as "NTIB"). These are bills that change laws or statutes specifically called out in the next biennial operating budget.

Speaking of the budget, we hope to see a negotiated final version later this week as we roll on to Sine Die on April 26.

Floor action will resume this afternoon at 1:30 pm, and we imagine it will probably be a very late night.

Good times!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just another manic Monday

With only two weeks until sine die, manic will likely become a descriptor you can add to every day henceforth.
Floor action is scheduled to start at 10 this morning. There is certainly no shortage of bills up for a vote, but no word yet on how late we might go today. We'll keep you posted.