Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's appointment time

As in appointments to legislative boards, commissions, task forces and whatnot.

Once bills are passed, the logistics of making them happen take place in agencies and within various work groups and committees. Legislators are often given a seat at the table and there's usually a slight frenzy of appointments just after the legislative session ends.

Poulsbo Rep. Sherry Appleton has been tapped for a second three-year term on the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Commission (SGC). This little Commission actually has quite a big task - they're the ones who recommend sentencing guidelines for adult and juvenile offenders.

For SGC history buffs, a brief history:
In 1981, the Washington State Legislature enacted the Sentencing Reform Act ("SRA"), which established the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and directed it to recommend to the Legislature a determinate sentencing system for adult felonies...

The Commission completed the original adult felony sentencing "grid" in 1982, and the Legislature enacted it into law in 1983... The Commission continues to advise the Legislature on necessary adjustments to the sentencing structure.

Prior to 1984, sentences imposed for adult felonies in Washington were indeterminate. Courts had wide discretion over whether or not to impose a prison sentence and the length of any sentence... Indeterminate sentencing is still in effect for more than 750 prison inmates who committed crimes before July 1, 1984...

The Legislature has amended the Sentencing Reform Act in almost every legislative session, requiring longer periods of confinement for violent offenders, sex offenders and drug offenders. Statewide citizen initiatives have also resulted in the imposition of longer prison terms, including longer sentences for armed crime and also the nation’s first "three strikes and you’re out" measure. Where average prison terms have increased markedly in length, the state’s prison population has more than doubled since 1984.
And for serious SGC fans, you can attend their meetings yourself, the second Friday of each month.

Upthegrove testifies before EPA panel

Nearly 200 people signed up to testify today before an Environmental Protection Agency panel about the negative effects of greenhouse gases. Governor Gregoire, Sen. Phil Rockefeller and Rep. Dave Upthegrove were the first three to testify this morning at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle. The EPA plans to list greenhouse gases as a dangerous pollutant which poses a threat to public health and welfare. The agency is conducting two public hearings in the country on the issue, with Seattle being the second of the two.

Rep. Upthegrove began his three-minute remarks by saying, “I enthusiastically support the EPA’s findings.”
As chairman of the House Ecology and Parks Committee, Upthegrove pushed for legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state and was the prime sponsor of the governor’s Cap and Trade bill in the House this year.

The bill ultimately did not pass the Legislature, being one of several to fall just short on Sine Die. But Governor Gregoire announced an executive order to reduce emissions shortly after this morning’s testimony. The executive order resembles what was in Senate Bill 5735 - the bill that didn’t make it through the Legislature this session. It also has some new ideas, including directing the Department of Ecology to develop industry-specific emissions benchmarks.

Upthegrove praised the governor’s continued efforts to deal with climate change.

“There is not a shadow of a doubt that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare,” he said. “I applaud the governor for doing the right thing today for Washington’s families, businesses, and communities.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The end - officially

Yesterday was the final day of bill signings. It marked the final day of bill action and the final day legislators had to worry or wonder about the ultimate fate of their bills.

Among the long list of final-day signings was the 2009-11 operating budget and 2009 supplemental budgets.

In signing the budget bill, Governor Gregoire vetoed a number of sections. The vetoes fall into the following criteria:

  • Funding for bills that did not pass the Legislature. This funding lapses and goes towards increasing the ending fund balance.
  • Deleting provisos so agencies have more flexibility in spending. By getting rid of the proviso, it doesn’t mean that the program/service won’t happen. If the agency needs to reduce spending, it allows for their ability to make more reductions across all spending.
  • Technical problems with spending/transfers
  • Policy choices
  • Allowing more funding for DSHS in the 2009 supplemental budget
In total, the net effect of these changes is to reduce the Near General Fund ending fund balance by about $82 million, leaving it at about $670 million.

Examples of the Governor's vetoes:

Provisos that give agencies more flexibility: Medicaid Services - Podiatry, adult dental services, and family planning nurses, were provisoed.

Technical issues: Actuary Health Care Study - $750,000 had been provided to do a comprehensive study of health care costs of all governmental entities in the state pension systems. The fund source was from a Health Care Authority account, which can’t be spent for purposes such as this study.

Policy choices: Performance Audits - The Governor vetoed sections dealing with transfers from the Performance Audit Account. $29.2 million had been transferred into the General Fund. Of this amount, about $15 million is from prior biennia and the State Auditor had agreed to part with this funding. The Governor is directing OFM to put these funds in an unallotted status, so the 2010 supplemental budget will be able transfer these funds. The remaining dollars will allow the State Auditor to have full funding for performance audits in the 2009-11 biennium.

2009 Supplemental: The Governor vetoed several sections of Department of Social and Health Services appropriations. By vetoing these sections, the department gained about $32.3 million in additional funding. There is some concern that DSHS will not be able to close out the 2007-09 biennium without these extra dollars.

You can read news about the final budget here and here, where Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald ponders whether the budget will carry us through the biennium if revenues continue to fall. A new revenue forecast is due mid-June.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Basic ed bill signed into law

The parade of bill signings continue. Yesterday, of particular note, the Governor signed the domestic partnership bill.

Today, the Governor signed HB 2261, the basic ed funding bill that essentially redefines "basic education" and sets in motion the rewrite of the funding formulas that drive out dollars to school districts. Because the state is constitutionally bound to fund whatever it defines as "basic education," advocates are happy to see the new definition linked to graduation requirements that will make students much more college- and work-ready.

The Governor did veto two portions of the bill - the inclusion of early learning for at-risk kids and additional funding for highly capable students. The Governor made it clear she supports such efforts but does not think this is the appropriate way to fund those programs.

More than a hundred people turned up for the bill signing including parents, children, PTA members, and other advocates.