Saturday, March 5, 2011

L&I reforms and coal plant closures - the spirit of compromise abounds

This afternoon the House passed a sweeping reform package for the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), adding flexibility for employers and injured workers, and stricter accident prevention enforcement. In total, the package potentially saves the workers’ compensation system tens of millions of dollars each year and drives down employer premiums.

The changes come in the wake of an overhaul to the state unemployment insurance forged with broad bi-partisan participation.

“That same spirit of bringing together all parties to come to a compromise was applied to this negotiating process, in order to find common ground,” said Rep. Mike Sells, the Chair of the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee and a chief negotiator of the package.

You can read more about the bills here.

In other breaking news, an agreement was announced today between lawmakers and Transalta to begin closing down its Centralia coal plant.

The waiting is the hardest part

Long lines at state Department of Licensing offices may soon be a thing of the past.

The House passed legislation today that would allow DOL to authorize traffic safety schools to administer the driver exams. Rep. Dave Upthegrove, the bill's sponsor, says the change would remove the most time-intensive staff function from DOL offices, freeing up more personnel to provide customer service at the counter.

In some areas, wait times at DOL offices are measured in hours rather than minutes.

"You take a number and sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair and you wait. And you wait. And you wait," Upthegrove said on the House floor today.

He was motivated to sponsor the measure because the problem seems to be universally recognized, but the Department of Licensing hasn't provided a fix yet.

There are approximately 200 private driving schools in Washington, but only 30 driver licensing offices. Consumers will have more options by being able to take the exam at one of the driving schools, Rep. Upthegrove says.

Additionally, the bill increases the renewal period for driver's licenses from five years to six years. It also gives people who opt to renew their licenses online a five dollar price break off the renewal cost.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Health care bills target transparency, parity

Numerous health care-related bills cleared the House today, including one to provide more transparency for consumers about premium increases, and another to help the state prepare for the implementation of federal health care reform.

One bill, sponsored by freshman legislator Rep. Laurie Jinkins, will help Washingtonians who are battling cancer. It requires insurers to provide comparable coverage for both oral and intravenous cancer drugs. Often times, oral chemotherapy is the better treatment, but patient co-pays for this can be thousands of dollars more than IV treatment, even though oral chemotherapy can usually be done at home and IV treatment requires a trip to the hospital.

Here, in her speech on the House floor, Rep. Jinkins explains why this parity is important not just for patients, but for their families as well:

WA Whiteboard: Unemployment and Education

Rep. Larry Seaquist takes a moment to connect unemployment rates to work he's doing in the Higher Education Committee:

Heading into final days before major cutoff deadline

Today is likely to be another late night as members work to pass their bills before Monday's house-of-origin cutoff deadline. So far, the plan is that we'll be here tomorrow but Sunday isn't yet confirmed.

There are a few committee hearings this morning for the Labor & Workforce Development and Technology, Energy & Communications committees.

At 10:00, the House will convene on the floor for a resolution and then head to caucus. On the horizon for today: health care legislation.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

‘Building bridges’ in our schools

Rep. Andy Billig hit the ball out of the park yesterday with his speech on the House floor in favor of House Bill 1829. The bill puts into statute the Office of Native Education within the state Superintendent's Office, something that Rep. Billig says is long overdue. Native Americans helped chart the history of our state, and having this Office not only ensures that the particular challenges of Native American students are addressed, but that all students gain exposure to the language and culture of our native peoples.

"It helps to build bridges in our schools for Native American students, and for all students," Rep. Billig said.

Celebrating half-time with more floor action

We’ve passed the half-way point in the 2011 session!

Unfortunately, there is no half-time break for us. Floor action will continue this morning at 10:00 and run all day, though we don't expect to go as late as we did yesterday.

There are a couple House committees meeting this morning including Business & Financial Services and Education.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rep. Steve Kirby cracks down on predatory lenders

Picture you’re strapped for cash and this close to losing your home. You try to get the bank to lend you some money, but your credit history is not all that great, so they say no. You’re desperate, so you end up taking out a high-interest loan from a hard-money lender and you sign a contract that they tell you is completely standard. Surprise! You’ve just signed away your home to the lender and you don’t even know it.

You’ve been scammed. Big time.

It happens. In fact, it happens more often than you’d want to know, but if you do want to know, read this Seattle Times story.

To address this issue, Rep. Steve Kirby sponsored HB 1405, which will modify current law to give victims of predatory lenders some much needed protections.

Read the press release on the passage of this and other bills aimed at helping people keep their homes.

Legislation to prevent school bullying heads to Senate and airwaves

School bullying has been a focus of Rep. Marko Liias for awhile, as we've covered on The Advance before.

Liias has legislation this session to strengthen anti-harassment policies in schools, as well as to establish an on-going group to find ways to stop bullying. The House passed Liias' proposal, House Bill 1163, with a vote of 76 to 21.

His efforts don't stop in the captiol -- Liias taped a segment with Comcast Newsmakers that will be on the airwaves soon:

Been waiting for Town Hall Saturday? March 12 is the day!

It's almost here. Town Hall Saturday. That time of mid-session when legislators leave the hallowed halls of our state's capitol to reconnect with constituents in more humbly adorned rooms at community centers, libraries, and schools.

This year, Town Hall Saturday is March 12. Take a look at the schedule below to see who, when and where your closest town hall meeting is taking place. We'll see you there!

District 1 - Senator McAuliffe, Reps. Stanford and Moscoso
10 a.m. at Northshore Senior Center (10201 East Riverside Dr, Bothell)
12:30 at Cathcart Elementary School (8201 188th St SE, Snohomish)
3:00 at Mountlake Terrace Library (23300 58th Ave West)

District 3 - Senator Brown, Reps. Ormsby and Billig
10:00 at Northeast Community Center (4001 N Cook St, Spokane)
2:00 at Museum of Arts and Culture (2316 W First Ave, Spokane)

District 11 - Rep. Hasegawa
10:00 (coffee and donuts) 10:30 (town hall) at the Georgetown Campus of South Seattle Community College, meeting rooms C110/C111 (6737 Corson Ave South)

District 17 - Reps. Probst and Harris
9:00 at Mountain View High School, Auditorium (1500 SE Blairmont Dr, Vancouver)

District 21 - Senator Shin, Reps. Roberts and Liias
10:30 at Rosehill Community Center (304 Lincoln Ave, Mukilteo)

District 23 - Senator Rockefeller, Reps. Appleton and Rolfes
9:30 at Manette Community Church (1137 Hayward Ave, Bremerton)
1:30 at Poulsbo Community Library (700 NE Lincoln Road)

District 26 - Senator Kilmer and Rep. Seaquist
12:00 at Norm Dicks Government Center (346 6th St, Bremerton)
2:00 at Givens Community Center, Kitsap Room (1026 Sidney Ave, Port Orchard)
4:00 at Peninsula High School, Auditorium (14105 Purdy Drive NW, Gig Harbor)

District 27 - Senator Regala, Reps. Darneille and Jinkins
10:00 at Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus, Lyceum Hall (1210 6th Ave, Tacoma)

District 32 - Senator Chase, Reps. Kagi and Ryu
10:00 at Third Place Commons (17171 Bothell Way NW, Lake Forest Park)

District 34 - Senator Nelson, Reps. Cody and Fitzgibbon
10:00 at High Point Community Center (6920 34th Ave SW, Seattle)

District 37 - Senator Kline, Reps. Santos and Pettigrew
10:00 (coffee hour) 10:30 (town hall) at Garfield Community Center (2323 East Cherry Street, Seattle)

District 41 - Senator Litzow, Reps. Clibborn and Maxwell
10:00 at Hazelwood Elementary School (7100 116th Ave SE, Newcastle)
1:30 at Mercer Island High School (9100 SE 42nd St)

District 43 - Senator Murray, Speaker Chopp and Rep. Pedersen
2:00 at Seattle First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Ave)

District 45 - Senator Hill, Reps. Springer, Goodman
10:30 at Woodinville City Hall (17301 133rd Avenue NE)

District 46 - Senator White, Reps. Kenney and Frockt
Noon at Meadowbrook Community Center, Multi-Purpose Room (10517 35th Ave NE, Seattle)

District 47 - Senator Fain, Reps. Sullivan and Hargrove
11:00 at Cutter's Point Coffee (Next to Fred Meyer - 16739 SE 272nd St, Covington)
2:00 (education-focused meeting) at Auburn School District Administration Office (915 4th St NE)

District 48 - Senator Tom, Reps. Hunter and Eddy
10:30 at Redmond City Hall (15670 NE 85th St)

District 49 - Senator Pridemore, Reps. Moeller and Jacks
10:00 at the Public Service Center, 6th floor (1300 Franklin, Vancouver)

There are a few town halls happening on other days as well:
March 11: District 24 - Reps. Van De Wege and Tharinger
3:00 at Port Townsend Community Center (620 Tyler St)

March 19: District 38 - Rep. McCoy
1:00 (energy discussion only) at Qualco Bio-Digester Facility (18117 SE 203rd St, Monroe)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Washington gains thousands of jobs

Despite losing jobs in some fields like government (-600) and construction (-1500), January was the strongest month of job growth in Washington since before the recession began, adding 11,000 new jobs. Over the past year, in fact, we've added an estimated 20,500 jobs.

Industries that added jobs in January were professional and business services, up 5,600; education and health services, up 4,500; retail trade, up 1,500; leisure and hospitality, up 1,300; financial activities, up 1,200; transportation, warehousing and utilities, up 800; and mining and logging, up 100.

“It’s unusual to have job gains in the middle of winter, so this is another positive sign that the recovery is under way,” said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause.

Industries that added jobs in January were professional and business services, up 5,600; education and health services, up 4,500; retail trade, up 1,500; leisure and hospitality, up 1,300; financial activities, up 1,200; transportation, warehousing and utilities, up 800; and mining and logging, up 100.

If you're still looking for a job, the statewide WorkSource system offers a variety of employment and training services for job seekers, including free help with interviewing skills, résumés and job referrals. WorkSource also can help employers recruit and screen for qualified workers, apply for employment tax breaks and qualify for subsidized employee training.

Visit their website to peruse job listings here. Or phone at 877-872-5627.

Here's ESD's full report on Washington's latest job growth.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Protecting the future

Three major bills to protect Washington's waterways from pollution headlined a package of environmental legislation that passed the House today.

HB 1721 makes Washington the first state in the nation to ban coal-tar sealant for pavement, which contains high concentrations of toxics called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HB 1186 incorporates lessons learned from last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so that we can avoid a similar disaster from happening in Puget Sound.

And HB 1489 limits the sale of lawn fertilizer containing phosphorous in order to help prevent toxic algae blooms in lakes and streams.

Read more about the bills and how they will help protect Washington's 'Evergreen Legacy' here.

Workers’ Comp reform = better care, less costly system

2011 marks the centennial of Washington's Workers' Compensation program, also known as Industrial Insurance. It is a no-fault insurance program that pays medical costs and partially reimburses the lost wages of workers who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses.

Some big changes to the program are slated for the session, to help bring down costs and better protect injured workers. The first reform came Saturday night, when the House of Representatives passed a bill to provide better medical care to injured workers and reduce costs through a new health care provider network. It also expands the number of Centers for Occupational Health and Education - a proven method of getting workers back to work sooner.

"This will lower the cost both to workers and businesses by getting people back to work much quicker so that Washington's workforce and businesses are stronger as we move out of this recession," said the bill's sponsor and Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, Rep. Mike Sells.

The measure will save about $160 million over the next four years.

To get the details on this legislation, read the press release here.