Saturday, December 11, 2010

Special Session Saturday

Today’s action began in the Ways and Means Committee, where the budget proposal was approved with bipartisan and unanimous support. Outgoing chair Kelli Linville presided over the hearing and offered that “working together is the way you’re going to get through this” right before the committee voted 18 to zero in favor of the bill.

“These cuts that are included in this bill will have a real impact,” said Majority Leader Pat Sullivan. “Whether it’s school children or those that get health care through community clinics…these are tough choices that’ll affect citizens across this entire state.”

Sullivan concluded by saying the House will need “to make sure that we hold our core values true, but also take difficult actions to resolve the budget shortfall.”

The hearing can be viewed online at TVW.

This afternoon the House and Senate passed the budget cuts (which The Advance reported on yesterday) as well as two supporting bills dealing with tax complains and child support. The bipartisanship in committee was reflected on the House floor, as members from both parties voted for and against the budget, passing 86 to six.

In all, today’s actions will tackle $585 million of the current budget hole. When members meet in January, the remaining $541 million in cuts needed to balance the budget ending in June will be addressed.

Rep. Williams' last speech on the House Floor, on cuts to health and social services

Friday, December 10, 2010

Details on tomorrow's budget vote

The Legislature will convene tomorrow for a special session to take early action on the FY 2011 supplemental operating budget (fiscal year 2011 is the current and second budget year of the 2009-11 biennial budget).

The House Ways & Means Committee will hold a hearing on the budget bill at 10 a.m. and members will then head to the floor around noon.

The bill to be voted on tomorrow represents an agreement between all four corners of the Legislature – Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate. It will result in about $490 million worth of reductions, $51 million in fund transfers and $44 million in additional revenue through tax compliance efforts.

The total budget shortfall for the remainder of the current budget year is about $1.1 billion. With a total of $585 million in reductions in tomorrow's budget bill, that leaves about $541 million more for legislators to cut when they convene for regular session in January.

In addition to millions in administrative reductions, cuts include:
  • $51 million in across-the-board cuts to state universities
  • $39 million to eliminate K-4 class-size enhancement
  • $9.1 million in planned K-12 education reform activities
  • $27.7 million in Basic Health Plan (freezes coverage and lowers enrollment as people drop off the plan)
You can see the full list of agreed-to budget reductions here.

So Long, Chair Conway

After 18 years serving on the Commerce & Labor committee, 11 of those as the Chair, Rep. Steve Conway banged the gavel one last time today in the House, closing a chapter in the committee's history.

It was an emotional moment, as many kind words were exchanged between the Chair and members from both parties on the committee.

"This committee has been home to me," said Conway. "This committee can easily become very polarized. But I think what we've been able to achieve here has been a good balance, and I attribute that a lot to the members here and to the high-quality staff."

"I've always found the Commerce and Labor Committee had some of the most robust, honest debate in the House," said Rep. Bruce Chandler, the Ranking Minority Leader on the committee. "I will say, Mr. Chair, you've always been fair... At least after some discussion," he jokingly added.

(Conway receives a hug from Rep. Jim Moeller)

Conway isn't going far, however. He leaves the House to join the Senate, in which he'll serve as the Vice-Chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Consumer Protection Committee.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's official: Special Session this Saturday

Governor Gregoire has just announced she will call the Legislature into special session at 9:00 AM this Saturday, December 11, 2010 to pass a first Supplemental Operating Budget that will address a large portion of the current budget shortfall.

The lingering recession continues to cause state revenues to go down at the same time as more Washington families are looking to the state for help.

Deep cuts will have to be made, and each one will hurt real people. But our children, our seniors and our most vulnerable citizens will remain our top priority.

Pettigrew, Moeller and Green join caucus leadership team

At a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus today, Representative Eric Pettigrew was chosen as caucus chair. He has been the Chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee for the past two years.

Also elected were:
  • Rep. Jim Moeller as Speaker Pro-Tem designate. He will be approved by the entire House on the opening day of the 2011 session.
  • Rep. Tami Green as Majority Floor Leader. She has served as Deputy Majority Floor Leader for the past two years.
They join Speaker-designate Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, and Majority Whip Kevin Van De Wege, who were elected last month.

Additional leadership positions will be filled at a later date.

Who will it be? Bored tunnel contract winner to be announced today

Update 1:34 p.m.: The Seattle Tunnel Partners team was announced as the “apparent successful bidder.” The bid is $1.09 billion.

Hammond spoke highly of both teams, saying, “Both of them went above and beyond,” what was asked for in the original bid criteria. Officials reviewed over 6,000 pages of documents over the past few months as they evaluated the proposals. WSDOT officials, Gov. Gregoire, Rep. Judy Clibborn, and elected city and county officials were on hand for the announcement.

What’s next? Bidders can protest the awarding of the technical credits for the next nine days. The contract will be awarded in January, and execution will begin in February.

Earlier today:

Cue the drum roll—this afternoon we’ll find out which team wins the contract to build the bored-tunnel viaduct replacement in Seattle. Last May the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) issued a request for proposals, leading to two project teams submitting plans in October. The two bids will be revealed publicly at 1 p.m. at an event in Seattle’s Union Station. Elected officials, transportation staff and stakeholder groups are expected to attend.

As already announced, both teams’ bids are within the contract’s price limit so evaluators have spent the past few months looking at how each proposal most efficiently meets the project’s overall goals and minimizes distractions to the community. “After an in-depth review, we will award the contract to the team that has complied with our requirements and has the best-value proposal,” said WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond in October.

The contract, expected to be valued at $1 billion to $1.2 billion, is known as “design-build,” which combines the project design and construction responsibilities into one entity that assumes most of the financial risk. We will update this post later today with the final decision, so stay tuned.

(Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rep. Goodman reintroduces bill protecting rape victims from their assailant in the courtroom

KOMO 4 News reports on a bill introduced this week to offer more legal protection to victims of rape, shielding them from coming face-to-face with their alleged assailant in the courtroom.

The bill was first introduced last year by outgoing Rep. Brendan Williams. "I've heard heart-wrenching stories of sexual abuse survivors being revictimized in a courtroom by their abusers," said Williams. "Our justice system cannot endorse courtroom theater that leaves witnesses incapacitated with fear and unable to testify."

It passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. Now, Roger is taking up the mantle from Williams and plans to finish the job this session by reintroducing the legislation on the first possible day. "The rapists acting as their own attorney aren't trying to be found innocent by the jury," Goodman said. "They're taking one last chance to be in control of their victims again. It's sadistic and wrong."

HB 1001 direct the courts to develop rules so that judges could (a) order a stand-in attorney to question rape victims or (b) have accused rapists question victims by closed-circuit television.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chopp: Caucus will discuss budget, special session on Thursday

The headlines say it all: Governor Gregoire is giving legislators until Christmas to convene for special session and take early action on the budget.

At this point, no date is set, but all five corners are meeting to hash out an agreement. House Speaker Frank Chopp sent a short statement to reporters late yesterday:
“The five-corners are making good progress toward an agreement that will significantly address the shortfall in the current operating budget. That work will continue tomorrow, and we will meet with our caucus on Thursday.”
House members will be in Olympia Thursday and Friday for Committee Assembly Days.

You can review budget ideas from the House Democrats. It’s largely recognized that whatever action legislators take in a special session will be only a first step in solving the current biennium’s $1.1 billion budget problem.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who first wired the White House for personal computers? Hint: It's a legislator...

The Herald published a very interesting and in-depth article about Rep. John McCoy yesterday. In addition to his work in the House, where he chairs the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee, McCoy has been instrumental at home:
Quil Ceda Village contributes millions of dollars per year to the tribal and local economies and the tribes donate millions to nonprofits. The tribes’ relations with their non-Indian neighbors are much improved from 20 years ago.

While John McCoy didn’t make all this happen by himself, he had a huge part in it.
You can read about McCoy's history, which includes work on the beginnings of the Internet and installing computers at the White House, here: John McCoy, Quil Ceda Village helped Tulalips to prosperity

Meetings, mods and... not much more

This week, legislators will be in Olympia for Committee Assembly Days. Senate committees will convene today and tomorrow, some joint committees will meet Wednesday, and House committees will convene Thursday and Friday.

Other signs of life on campus – About a dozen House members were here this weekend as part of the “Committee on Committees” to work on potential changes to House committee structure and recommendations for chair positions. The House will vote on their recommendations later this week. Incoming freshman will be on campus all week for their orientation, and many legislators are scoping out their temporary office spaces in the the "mods," or modular office buildings, while the John L. O’Brien building is under construction.

Oh, and about that special session – still no decision.