Thursday, July 1, 2010

Shhh! It's an election year

Today is July 1 and the first day that election-year restrictions kick in for communications from your legislators at the House of Representatives.

This means our members' websites will be "frozen" for the rest of the year and they won't be sending out newsletters or mailings. (Well, not legislative ones anyway.)

For our blog it means we'll continue sharing news about legislative and committee meetings, budget news, and progress on implementing recently-passed bills, but things will slow down a bit and rarely will we provide news about our members.

So keep checking in, but if you're wondering why our members seem so quiet all of a sudden, it's because they have to be.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clibborn sheds light on ferry problems, recent progress

The state’s ferry system has generated quite a few headlines recently—the governor last week floated the idea of privatization, and news outlets have focused a spotlight on overtime policies and other operational practices. Rep. Judy Clibborn (Mercer Island) has weighed in with her thoughts on these issues, along with an account of successive ferry reforms over the past several years.

“… it’s clear that good judgment and fiscal responsibility were thrown overboard in some instances,” Clibborn writes about some of Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) overtime, travel and special-projects policies. She continues, “State employees serve in the public’s interest and have a special obligation to use taxpayer dollars in thoughtful, efficient ways as they deliver services.”

Clibborn notes that WSF has had a troubled past, which the Legislature has worked to remedy with a series of reforms since 2007. “The Legislature has taken corrective action and will continue to demand accountability with the public’s dollars,” she writes. Recent progress includes cost-savings and efficiencies to the tune of $35 million annually, and the construction of three new, much-needed ferries. And in recent months, WSF itself has put a stop to questionable overtime and mileage/travel practices.

Clibborn believes in the leadership team at WSF and the achievements of recent reforms but adds that “… our reform work must continue.”

For more information about ferry reforms, click here for Clibborn’s 2010 bill and here for a comprehensive, long-range plan by WSF created at the direction of the Legislature.

What do phony prescriptions and phosphates have in common?

They'll both be much harder to find starting tomorrow.

Numerous new state laws go into effect on July 1 including one that will improve the health of our waterways by requiring stores to only sell low-phosphate dishwasher soap. Washington will be one of 16 states to enact such a ban tomorrow. Washington has had a similar ban on laundry detergent since 2006.

Tomorrow, doctors and other professionals with clearance to write prescriptions for their patients will have to use tamper-resistant notepad or paper. The Department of Health says the change will cut down on people stealing or altering prescriptions.

Other bills include one that requires anyone wanting to collect solid waste to obtain a "solid waste collection certificate" (now that's something you'd want to frame and hang on your wall!), one to cut down on fraudulent use of out-of-state vehicle licensing, and one that will strengthen consumer protection for homeowners seeking to refinance their home by requiring licensing for loan modifiers and services.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Fill 'er up" is sooo 2009

Next year you may be charging up your car instead of gassing up.

It's been a long time coming, but soon, electric vehicles will be hitting what will likely be the first electric highway in the nation.

For several years, legislators such as Rep. Deb Eddy have been trying to put in place an infrastructure that would support mainstream use of electric vehicles. Last year, she pushed successfully for a bill to encourage our state and local governments to seek funding for charging stations and other necessary EV infrastructure.

Now, with the help of a $1.3 million federal grant, I-5 will become one of the first major corridors to feature charging stations that will allow drivers of EVs (such as the upcoming Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt) to drive from the Oregon to Canadian borders.

More info on the EV Project and in today's news story.

Wanted: Workers with college degrees

Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney is one of the leading lawmakers keeping Washington ahead of the curve when it comes to helping more people tap into a post-secondary education, starting with access to our community and technical colleges.

This is a tough calling when the growing demand for college degrees is accompanied by declining state support for colleges and universities. But it's a demand we can't afford to ignore.

"America is slowly coming out of the Recession of 2007 — only to find itself on a collision course with the future: not enough Americans are completing college... By 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees."

That's according to a new report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

According to the report, by 2018 the number of new jobs in Washington state requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 259,000. That's far more than the 107,000 new jobs that will be available for high school graduates and dropouts. Overall, 67 percent of Washington's jobs will require some level of post-high school education.

Rep. Kenney doesn't just talk about getting more people into college, she continuously pushes the doors wider. That's why the state’s community and technical college trustees recently awarded her their 2010 Outstanding Advocate for Equity Award.

They cited Rep. Kenney's sponsorship of the Opportunity Grant program in 2006 which provides millions of dollars for low-income adults wanting to gain new skills or retrain at a community college. She has worked tirelessly to secure resources for Seattle’s community colleges to expand programs for low-income students and increase access to high-demand programs such as engineering.

Rep. Kenney also helped create a ground-breaking new Certified Nursing Assistant program for Spanish-speaking students at South Seattle Community College, a partnership program with Swedish Hospital, the University of Washington and Sea-Mar. The nursing program has since become a nationally recognized model known as I-BEST (Integrated Basic Skills and Education Training) and has been mentioned by President Obama during speeches on education.

It's these kinds of innovations and programs that will bolster Washington's ability to keep our workers well-trained and our employers well-supported.