Friday, October 2, 2009

Today's committee meeting line-up

Another full day of committee meetings continues. Some notable topics include:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Women of Color Empowered Committee honors Rep. Kenney for her ongoing political leadership

Rep. Phyllis GutiƩrrez Kenney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Community & Economic Development & Trade and dedicated advocate for the Hispanic community in Seattle, was honored by the Women of Color Empowered Committee last Friday for her commitment to helping local communities of color.
“It is an honor to work toward a more promising future for our communities of color and to inspire other women to do the same,” Kenney said. “I’m truly thankful for those who continue to support me in the work that I do. My political achievements are merely a reflection of the continued collaboration among our diverse communities.”
For more than a decade, Kenney has served as a leader for women in politics and has worked to motivate others to venture into the male-dominated political realm. Click here for a more extensive list of her community involvement.

Photos from Vancouver area education forum

This week, state Reps. Deb Wallace and Tim Probst hosted a two-part forum to talk about the basic education funding bill passed last session and gather feedback about the work taking place now to implement the many changes outlined in the bill.

Wallace and Probst invited staff from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education, and the Professional Educator Standards Board to talk about that work.

On Tuesday evening, more than a dozen community members gathered for a broad discussion about the bill, and on Wednesday evening, more than 50 teachers and educators participated in a discussion focused more on the changes that will affect teacher certification and accountability.

The discussions were lively and participants shared compelling personal stories that shed light on how these changes may, or may not, have a positive effect on student learning.

Insurance bundling and black boxes - House committee will take a closer look

In a couple of hours, a meeting will convene that privacy advocates and people concerned about "creative" money-management schemes might be interested in - the House Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee at 1:30.

Have you ever heard of a device called an event data recorder (or EDR)? These things can be installed in a motor vehicle, either by the manufacturer when it’s built or by someone else sometime down the road. EDRs can gather a variety of details about what you and your vehicle are doing, including how fast you’re going and where you’re headed.

The devices can also determine what kind of a driver you are (your acceleration and braking habits, for instance, as well as the way you do your steering). You better believe this is a big consumer-privacy issue. Specifically, we’ve got to be asking ourselves, “What the heck’s gonna be done with the information gathered by these black-box type EDRs?”

That's what the committee will discuss, specifically looking into the way auto-insurance companies can use these EDRs.

Chaired by state Rep. Steve Kirby, the House panel wants to know the answer to a few questions including:
  • Can the proprietary information gathered by one of these devices ever be used against the consumer?
  • What happens if the insurance company determines that the “locations” you and your vehicle are visiting are “risky”?
Sure, we all know that some neighborhoods might be more dangerous than others. But when private insurers can make these types of determinations, we might well expect some very questionable and arbitrary outcomes. Specifically, a company could use the info to announce: “Your premiums will be increasing because we have determined that the places you frequent or live near are a high risk for claims.” How sneaky and unfair is that?

The House Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee will also review the securitizing of asset streams, AKA “bundling” – a growing practice on the part of the big-money folks in the financial world.

In this bundling operation, mortgages and other loans are packaged up and sold to investors. The borrower frequently isn’t even aware of the sale of his or her loan. Insurance-related products, including the right to collect the benefits of a life-insurance policy, are also being sold off in this same manner. Since the states and the federal government have definite regulatory roles in overseeing these securitized products, the Kirby committee wants to keep an eye on this securitization of asset streams.

Now, consider the practice of bundling subprime mortgages that’s been dragged into the spotlight as a result of the current chaos in the financial world. You bet there’s very serious concern that bundling is still happening today on Wall Street.

Even when it doesn’t involve subprime mortgages, the bundling of life settlements and life-insurance policies is also a very grave issue. What the bundler does is get his or her hands on, say, a thousand $1-million life-insurance policies, bundle them all up, and sell the whole package off to someone else. And then voila, he or she can make a “bundle,” so to speak – without the general public (that’s us) ever getting so much as a whiff of what’s going on. As we’re seeing all too clearly these days, it’s not always a happy ending for consumers when the fiscal foxes find a way to game the financial henhouse.

Welcome back, legislators! Is everyone assembled?

The ramp-up to Committee Assembly Days is over and the legislators are assembled, with a full two days of committee meetings underway.

Typically there is no floor action during this week. Rather, legislators use this time to touch base about issues coming up in the next session, look at the bills we passed last session and how they're being implemented, and manage other ongoing interim work.

After this morning's first round of meetings, legislators are now gathering for caucus. Whenever you manage to corral 63 House Democrats into one room, you know something exciting is going to happen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Van De Wege receives “Sound Hero” award

On September 29, Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (Sequim) was presented with a “Sound Hero” award by People for Puget Sound for his efforts to keep Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan De Fuca safe from oil spills. Last session, Rep. Van De Wege was the prime sponsor of the House version of a bill to require that a rescue tug, funded by industry, be stationed year-round at Neah Bay, Wash. Working together with state Senator Kevin Ranker (D – San Juan), Rep. Van De Wege pushed to ensure the bill’s passage. It was signed into law by Governor Gregoire on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

Both Rep. Van De Wege and his seatmate,
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler (Hoquiam), have been very aware of the need for a permanently-funded rescue tug because it was in their legislative district that one of Washington’s worst oil spills took place. The 1991 Tenyo Maru spill fouled beaches from British Columbia to Oregon, but the worst oiling was along the Olympic National Park shoreline and the Makah Indian Reservation, both of which are in the 24th Legislative District. The spill occurred when a Japanese fishing vessel collided with a freighter in calm summer waters off the coast of Cape Flattery.

“There are so many people who have worked so hard to ensure that we’d have a fully-funded rescue tug,” Rep. Van De Wege said. “I’m very honored to receive this award, but our success this year would not have been possible without the joint efforts of legislators, tribal leaders, local government officials, and citizen groups.”

The award was presented at the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim.

Tuition policy continues to be a sticky issue

Yesterday, the Higher Education Coordinating Board presented a draft report outlining numerous different ways to structure how we charge tuition in Washington. The report is in response to HB 2344, passed after the Legislature agreed to raise tuition increase caps from seven percent to 14 percent per year. The cap was raised to help colleges and universities offset the 13 percent cut in state funding for higher education.

The issue of tuition stirred a lot of debate last session. Rep. Revuen Carlyle, for example, argued vigorously that it was time to move the state to a high tuition/high financial aid model.

Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington, argued the state must give colleges more flexibility in setting tuition to avoid turning qualified students away or "taking the 'higher' out of higher education."

Before taking action, the Legislature asked the HECB to look at various tuition models, the issue of flexibility, and the impacts it might have on access, affordability, and degree production.

They explored the high tuition/high aid model that Carlyle was pushing for, but raised concerns that such a model might discourage lower-income students and students of color from pursuing a degree despite increased financial aid opportunities. The HECB also pointed out that financial aid eligibility for many middle-income families is a problem and that even with higher aid expenditures, it might not be enough to "level the playing field" for all students.

Other models they looked at included charging tuition based on family income, or the kind of degree being pursued, or on the basis of how many credits a student is enrolled in, or based on enrollment in lower division v. upper division courses, or even based on market prices.

Ultimately, the HECB proposed that tuition should make up no more than 45 percent of the share of revenues covering instructional costs. The Associated Press reports that UW and Western were not happy with the proposal and argued that it actually hinders the flexibility they need, and that such a formulaic model could force institutions to lower tuition whenever state appropriations go down.

The Legislature still has to look at the HECB's report and will likely continue the discussion in the upcoming session. Stay tuned!

Today's committee meeting line-up

Today at 1, the Early Learning & Children's Services Committee will meet to discuss promotion of early literacy and the Quality Improvement Rating System (also called "Seeds to Success").

At 1:30 the Environmental Health Committee will talk about unwanted drugs (
as in their effect on the environment, not a lack of demand) and airborne pesticides.

Finally, at 3:30 the Ways & Means Committee will review the recent caseload reports and revenue forecasts, how we're doing on the new 2009-2011 budget, state employee health benefits, and an overview of health care proposals.

If three meetings just isn't enough to curb your legislative appetite, check out the several other joint committee meetings (Senate + House) taking place today too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

K-12 funding reforms moving along - Wallace and Probst want feedback

Today and tomorrow the Quality Education Council is meeting to discuss details of where we're at with implementation of the basic ed funding bill passed last session.

Of particular interest, the QEC is looking at Superintendent Randy Dorn's proposal for a new pupil transportation funding system. Currently, the formulas used to dole out transportation money to school districts only account for about two-thirds of the costs resulting in districts having to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to make up the difference.

The QEC will also look at Dorn's proposed funding values for the "prototype school" model that the Legislature will use to fund basic education. The "prototype school" model is a way of clearly and easily calculating how many teachers, administrators and support staff it takes for, say, a high school with 600 students. The model also outlines what class size the state is funding, how much is going for things such as technology, utilities, textbooks and other costs associated with operating a safe, healthy school.

Dorn estimates that his proposal will require just over $3 billion of additional funding per year.

The QEC will ultimately send their recommendations to the Legislature in the upcoming 2010 session. That's why many legislators are actively seeking feedback about the proposals.

In fact, Vancouver-area residents are encouraged to attend a public meeting tonight and tomorrow night hosted by Reps. Deb Wallace and Tim Probst. The meetings begin at 6:30 and are at York Elementary School. Kathie Durbin at The Columbian has a
great overview of what kind of discussion to expect.

Committee Assembly week kicks off with...

...a couple of committee hearings! Who woulda thunk it?

Right now, the House Committee on Health & Human Services is taking a close look at the impact of the current budget on health and human services programs in Washington. Agencies are having to manage billion of dollars in recent cuts.

The meeting agenda includes a review of the following:

  • The Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS)
  • Administration/PaymentsMedical Assistance (DSHS)
  • Health Care Authority
  • Department of Health Economic Services Administration
  • Aging and Disability Services Administration (Developmental Disabilities and Long-Term Care)
Then, today at 1:30, two world-renowned experts on quality management will be in Olympia today to headline the first meeting of a new House committee that aims to improve the performance and oversight of Washington state government.

Deborah Hopen and Dr. David Spong will share their expertise on creating high-quality, high-performance systems at today’s 1:30 to 4:30 PM opening meeting of the House of Representatives' new Audit, Review and Oversight Committee.

Hopen is the editor of American Society for Quality's Journal for Quality and
Participation. She has more than 30 years of experience in the field, including service as a senior executive with both Fortune and Inc. 500 companies, plus service as a president and chairman of the American Society for Quality, and as president of the Washington State Quality Award Program and the International Standards Initiative.

Dr. David Spong, who recently retired as president of Aerospace Support for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, is President-Elect of the American Society of Quality. He's also a past chair and current Board member of the Baldrige Foundation. Under Spong's leadership, the Being Division earned the 2003 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for service.

Committee Chair Mark Miloscia is also an expert on effective auditing practices and managing for quality. Earlier this year, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program selected Miloscia for the 2009 volunteer Board of Examiners.

Can't make these meetings live? Don't worry, you can catch them live on TVW.