Friday, January 28, 2011

Officer's widow testifies in favor of "Brian Walsh Act"

Today's Labor and Workforce Development committee meeting included moving testimony from the widow of a Federal Way police officer who died last year of a heart attack while securing a crime scene.

Vanessa Walsh spoke in favor of House Bill 1445, also known as the "Brian Walsh Act," in honor of her husband.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, who sees it as a way to help the Walsh family and protect other families from going through what Vanessa Walsh has experienced in the aftermath of her husband's death.

Although the federal government found that Officer Walsh - who was a 34-year-old, healthy non-smoker - died a duty-related death, the state of Washington didn't see it that way. As a result, his family (which includes three children) was not eligible for survivor benefits normally available to the families of officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty.

"Duty-related heart attacks and strokes need to be covered," Van De Wege said. "This bill establishes a clear nexus between the onset of the stroke or heart attack, and the duty that a firefighter or officer was performing for his or her job."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The EBB: Power(Points) to the People

Whether you’re tracking a certain bill, or like to follow your favorite legislative committee, a great resource is the Electronic Bill Book. Also referred to as Committee Meeting Documents, it’s where committee staff store most documents used during work sessions, bill hearings, and executive sessions.

Experts on issues, agency staff working to implement programs, and others present on everything from an overview of the Department of Corrections, to the Quality Education Council’s 2011 Legislative Report.

For another example, a lot of people are interested in Gov. Gregoire’s big education proposal. Rep. Larry Seaquist held a work session today on higher education governance, and their first guest was one of the governor’s staff to explain the proposal. You can view their presentation by going to today’s meeting documents (here’s a shortcut for that too).

Jinkins: Health insurance rate hikes should be reviewed

By Rep. Laurie Jinkins

The national Affordable Care Act is a big step toward making health care more affordable and accessible, but it’s going to take time to implement. Our health care system is large and complex, so full reform can’t happen overnight. At the same time, I’m not very patient when I see people losing access to health care daily.

One thing we can do, right now, is let the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner continue to have the authority to review the rate changes proposed by insurers in Washington. Health insurance rates have skyrocketed over the past decade. Double-digit annual increases are not unheard of. The Insurance Commissioner currently has the right to review rate changes for individual plans, but that authority is set to expire at the end of this year.

Letting that happen is unacceptable—access and affordability will surely suffer. At a time when families are losing coverage at work because of the layoffs spawned by this recession, and when budget cuts are slashing many public-health programs, the need for affordable, accessible care has never been greater.

That’s why I’m sponsoring House Bill 1303, which would renew the Insurance Commissioner’s authority. This morning my bill was heard in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.

To learn more about health insurance in Washington or how the national health care reform law might affect you, please click here to visit the Insurance Commissioner’s informative website.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kirby wants tougher penalties for DUIs

Most of us know how painful it is to lose someone we care for to drunken driving – or maybe we know someone who has been either injured or involved in a DUI accident or arrest.

State Rep. Steve Kirby commented on this recent story about his friends, Frank and Carol Blair, who lost their daughter last year to a drunken driver. “I’ve talked with the Blairs about their loss. I can’t imagine going through their sorrow. No one should ever have to experience that kind of grief.”

The Tacoma lawmaker is sponsoring three bills to stiffen the punishment for drunken drivers. He said these criminals have been getting off too easily. Kirby’s legislative package goes after first-time offenders, as well as repeat DUIs.

The bills:

HB 1555 sets sentencing ranges for DUI homicide from 6.5 years to 8.5 years for a first offense.

HB 1556 increases minimum penalties for first-time DUI offenders from:

* One day in jail for an offender with a BAC of less than .15 – to three days in jail.

* Two days in jail for an offender with a BAC of .15 or more – to seven days in jail.

* And the offender would be charged the daily bed rate in all cases.

HB 1557 would make a third DUI in 10 years a class C felony.

(NOTE: “DUI” stands for “driving under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs.” “BAC” stands for “blood alcohol content.”)

Kirby, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, hopes the bills will soon receive a public hearing.

Go to Death Clock to see the running total of people killed due to drunken-driving so far this year.

Read Kirby’s full press release here.

Counting the homeless and making the homeless count

Caring volunteers will fan out across Washington tomorrow for the annual "point in time" count of the homeless. Gov. Gregoire has proclaimed Jan. 27 to be Homeless Awareness Day, and the House has adopted a resolution by Rep. Phyllis GutiƩrrez Kenney to recognize the occasion.
The Community Development & Housing Committee, which is led by Rep. Kenney, will hold a special work session on "The Realities of Homelessness in Washington," at 10 a.m. in House Hearing Room C tomorrow, with special guests including nationally renowned expert Norm Suchar, a leader with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Everyone can take part by tuning in to a live telecast and web cast of the Homeless Awareness Day event on TVW!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rep. Troy Kelley continues efforts to keep communities safe

Last year, Rep. Troy Kelley sponsored legislation to improve the way bail is administered in Washington. Today, he testified on behalf of his House Bill 1194 to continue limiting the number of dangerous offenders roaming our streets.

“We’ve taken a clear step forward in protecting our families and law enforcement officers,” Kelley said. “Let’s continue those efforts.”

Kelley’s HB 1194 permanently ends the practice of booking bail, which allowed the shooter in the tragic November 2009 Lakewood officer shootings to post bail on the weekend without seeing a judge. Under current state law, the use of booking bail is suspended until Aug. 1, 2011. Kelley’s bill removes that expiration date and requires that bail continue to be determined by a judge.

Prior to the suspension, approximately seven counties used booking bail and released felons according to a formula, without seeing a judge at all.

“We’re not talking about clogging up courts, we’re talking about saving lives,” Kelley said.

Please click here to watch public testimony on HB 1194 in today’s House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

WA Whiteboard: Liias on tax exemptions

Rep. Marko Liias breaks down how Initiative 1053 will play out in the 2011 legislative session.

E-gads, that’s a lot of e-waste

The state E-cycling program just past its second birthday, and has some good news to report: In those two years, Washingtonians have recycled 78 million pounds of TVs, computers, monitors, all free of charge. That's 5.8 pounds per person per year.

With so many of these products containing valuable metals and components, as well as toxic materials like lead, the Legislature established the program in 2006 to deal with the massive amount of these items choking our landfills.

Original sponsor of the legislation, plus an additional bill in '09 expanding the system to include refurbished items, Zack Hudgins welcomes the program's success. "Once again Washington is leading by example, providing a green solution that not only prevents environmental degradation, it spurs economic growth in a burgeoning eco-conscious industry."

The e-cycling program is administered by the state Department of Ecology, but completely funded by electronics manufacturers. Click here for more information on the program and to find out where you can bring your old tube TV.

Seattle lawmaker’s State Investment Trust bill draws national attention

State Rep. Bob Hasegawa’s legislation (HB 1320) to create the Washington State Investment Trust (WIT) is getting attention at the national level.

The Public Banking Institute (PBI), a non-partisan think-tank and research organization that explores and disseminates information on publicly-owned banks, stated that Hasegawa’s bill is similar to measures currently studied or proposed in other states such as Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon and Hawaii.

Ellen Brown, PBI president, said that the effort in Washington State, which is modeled after the 100-year old public Bank of North Dakota, is part of a growing nation-wide effort to “rescue state and municipal finances from a growing budget disaster.”

Go here to read PBI’s press release: Washington State joins Groundswell for Public Banking

Go here to read an op-ed by Ellen Brown: Washington State joins movement for public banking

Public hearings for Hasegawa’s measure, as well as its companion Senate bill, are scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, January 25:

Senate Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance Committee

Tuesday, January 25th, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Senate Hearing Room 2

House Business & Financial Services Committee

Tuesday, January 25th, 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

House Hearing Room B

K-12 education reform continues in Olympia

Education reform continues with Rep. Marcie Maxwell’s House Bill 1443, which outlines ways to strengthen instruction and support for Washington students, help close the opportunity gap and support education professionals.
“Education remains our state’s priority and our link to Washington’s thriving future,” Maxwell said. “Despite these tough economic times, we must maintain our commitment to providing a quality education program for all Washington students.”
Maxwell introduced the bill shortly after the Quality Education Council (QEC) delivered its second report to the Legislature last week, which included additional details on how to implement basic education reform.
While cognizant of the current budget realities and our constitutional responsibility to fully fund basic education, Maxwell and other members of the QEC delivered recommendations to keep efforts in the education reform arena moving forward.
For a little background information, the QEC is a group that was created by House Bill 2261, which was the major education reform bill passed during the 2009 session. The QEC issued its first report and recommendations in January 2010. That report set the stage for the first implementation step of House Bill 2261 and resulted in House Bill 2776. House Bill 2776 set in motion five previous recommendations from the QEC including the phase-in of a new pupil transportation formula and accelerated workgroups focused on local levy and teacher compensation issues.
Click here to read the press release on Maxwell’s House Bill 1443 continuing education reform.

Ferries: Package of bills to reform bargaining, management practices

Building upon the workforce reforms passed at the end of the 2010 session, transportation leaders are intensifying efforts to turn around the budget-challenged Washington State Ferries (WSF). Today a bipartisan group of transportation leaders in both the House and Senate announced a package of bills designed to improve efficiency, reduce waste and establish parity with other state employee contracts.

A bill sponsored by Reps. Judy Clibborn and Mike Armstrong deals with fairness in bargaining, preventing certain collective bargaining provisions for ferry employees from being greater than those provided to other general government employees. Examples include overtime pay, length of workday, use of compensatory time and free passage on ferries, among other things.

Rep. Jeff Morris is introducing a bill to promote better performance and accountability among certain managers at WSF. If certain performance measures are not met, the management may be contracted out to a private operator.

Armstrong and Clibborn have also teamed up on a bill that would find operational efficiencies by acting on recommendations put forth by the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee’s recent studies.

To read more, click here for the press release.