Saturday, April 9, 2011

Budget bill now heads to Senate

Just minutes ago, the House approved the 2011 supplemental and 2011-13 budget bill which we've covered here and here.

This marks the first major hurdle in budget negotiations. The bill now goes to the Senate, and it's expected we'll see some changes before they pass it.

With only 15 days left in the session, negotiations will be intense. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"We Are One" Rally in Olympia

Today at noon, nearly 10,000 filled the Capitol Steps in Olympia, union members and concerned citizens alike, making their voice heard. Putting the people first was their message, by closing corporate tax loopholes and providing opportunities for all in our state.

Dozens of House Democrats joined in the rally, energizing them like no other event in recent history.

"Olympia was democracy in action today with so many hard working Washingtonians coming to the People's House to share their concerns regarding the budget cuts," said freshman legislator Kristine Lytton. "We must continue to look at every way to ensure the quality of life we enjoy in Washington is not jeopardized further by looking at all possible solutions."

This is what Democracy sounds like.

This is what Democracy sounds like, outside the House chambers.

House votes to help immigrants do the right thing the right way

Last night the House unanimously passed HB 5023, a measure to crack down on quasi-legal assistants who swindle hard working men and women out of hundreds or thousands of dollars with the promise of fixing their immigration papers.

This consumer protection bill solves the problem of people using misleading labels, such as “registered immigration assistant” and “notario publico,” a term that is the equivalent to attorney in some Latin American countries. With these titles they deceive vulnerable immigrants about their authority, qualifications, competency and ability to provide professional services.

The deceptions that have taken place as a result of this practice have caused serious harm to immigrants and prevented them from getting the legal advice and services they do need.

By eliminating the current state registry of “immigration assistants,” the bill stresses that only lawyers are authorized to provide legal advice on immigration matters. Under this measure assistants to lawyers can still translate, transcribe and provide other helpful services to immigrants that do not constitute the practice of law.

Watch the video below to see freshman Rep. Cindy Ryu, a naturalized citizen, as her moving remarks remind everyone in the chamber what being an American is all about:

The measure has the support of immigrants, immigrant organizations, and other groups that work directly with immigrants, such as One America, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This is really a good consumer protection bill,” said Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, who sponsored the House companion to the Senate measure that passed. “Too many people wanting to do the right thing are instead seeing their lives ruined from having trusted these individuals who masquerade as attorneys.”

SB 5023 now goes back to the Senate for concurrence and then to Governor Gregoire for her signature.

In the House today - budget floor debate to begin

The House will be running bills all day with a particularly notable one on the agenda.

It is expected we will hear the operating budget on second reading later this afternoon. There are numerous amendments to work through before we get to final passage. That said, it is expected that we will be on the floor tomorrow as well.

We'll keep you posted!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Transportation funding bill would help address growing backlog of needs

The last time the $5 fee for vehicle wreckers to renew their first set of license plates was 1961. The $15 fee you pay to renew your driver's license is the same fee your parents paid when they renewed their licenses in 1999.

Some legislators are thinking it might be a good time to revisit some of those fees. House transportation leaders, led by Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, today introduced a bill to fund basic but overdue improvements for road maintenance and preservation, the State Patrol, ferries and transit.

The plan is paid for by updating several transportation fees, many of which haven’t changed in years. Realigning the fees will better reflect their actual administrative costs and would fund about $129 million worth of projects per biennium.

“We’ve made huge progress on transportation over the last several years. Nearly 300 projects are complete with more on the way from the 2003 and 2005 gas-tax packages, plus dozens more from federal economic recovery funds. But a backlog still remains,” said Clibborn.

At a Transportation Committee work session on Jan. 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation reported that basic maintenance, preservation and operations needs at both state and local levels are underfunded by roughly $3.5 billion over the next 10 years.

More information about the proposal is here.

A public hearing for the bill is set for Monday, April 11 at 8 a.m.

Committee approves budget proposal - floor debate planned to begin tomorrow

The House Ways and Means Committee met yesterday and stayed well into the night to approve the House budget proposal. The bill was approved on a vote of 16-11.

The committee adopted several amendments. The following were changes that impacted spending:

Additional Resources ($17.5 million total)
  • Department of Revenue new revenues = $14.5 million (should have been reflected on the original balance sheet, due to DOR collection activity)
  • Waste Reduction, Recycling and Litter Account = $3 million (transfer)
Spending Changes ($20.6 million total)
  • Technical changes = $1.8 million
  • Restore funding to Higher Education Coordinating Board = $4.7 million
  • Agency provider health benefits – provide $450/month for home care workers = $2.1 million
  • Centrum = $100,000
  • Conservation Commission = $1.9 million
  • Microsoft IT Academy for high schools = $2 million
  • Courts funding – net of further reductions to Attorney General = $1.1 million
  • Agriculture fees + Fair Fund = $7 million
Net change = $3.1 million

The revised ending fund balance is $792 million.

As this blog post is being written, the plan is to bring the budget to the floor tomorrow and begin debate on amendments. Final passage of the budget proposal is planned for Saturday. As we know, plans are always subject to change.

If you want to know some of the differences between the budget proposal from Ways & Means Chair Ross Hunter and the proposal from the GOP, Reps. Larry Springer and Eileen Cody summed it up nicely in committee.

In the House today

The House will convene on the floor at 10:00 am for a full day of bill action. No word, yet, on how late we will work.

Before we get to that, though, we have a little committee activity:

8:00 am Education
Work Session: Dropout Prevention, Intervention & Retrieval

9:00 am Early learning and Human Services
Work Session:
1. Early childhood home visiting.
2. Community Juvenile Accountability Act (December 2010 Report).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In the House today - major committee activity and more floor

The House will convene on the floor at 10:00 this morning and break at noon for the noon labor committee meeting. Members will then return to the floor until the Ways and Means committee meets at 3:30 to exec the budget bill.

8:00 am Higher Education
Work Session: Student Support Services
  1. Academic counseling and support for student success.
  2. Mental health counseling and support.
8:45 am State Government and Tribal Affairs
Executive Session:
  • HB 2028 - Transferring executive ethics responsibilities to the public disclosure and ethics commission
  • HB 2033 - Consolidating arts and heritage programs for the purpose of streamlining government and improving efficiency
  • HB 2034 - Reforming and streamlining the sentencing guidelines commission for the purpose of saving money
  • HB 2035 - Effectuating financial stability for the public printer
12:00 pm Labor and Workforce Development
Possible Executive Session:
  • HB 2023 - Achieving savings in workers' compensation but only with respect to permanent partial disability awards and awards of permanent total disability following an award of permanent partial disability.
  • HB 2025 - Freezing industrial insurance cost-of-living increases.
  • HB 2026 - Creating the industrial insurance rainy day account.

3:30 pm Ways and Means
Possible Executive Session: HB 1087 - Making 2011-2013 operating appropriations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

House honors César Chávez’s legacy

State Reps. Luis Moscoso and Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney celebrated the life of César Chávez and honored his legacy with House Resolution 4647, adopted last Friday by the Washington State House of Representatives.

“I was a teen in the ‘60s when I first heard about César Chávez,” said Moscoso. "César’s belief in non-violence and his dedication to the poor and to workers had a great influence on me; his faith in humanity gave me the strength to persevere in the struggles of our times.”

In the other Washington, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring March 31st as César Chávez Day, saying that “Chávez’s legacy provides lessons from which all Americans can learn.”

“César Chávez is a hero, not only for farm workers but for all workers who deserve to be recognized for their important contributions, and who merit dignity for the diverse—and often hard—work they carry out every day,” said State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney.

For the full release, click here.

Want a job at Boeing? The state can help.

Hear that roar of a jet engine overhead? That's the sound of more and more aerospace jobs coming to Washington.

Here's some good news as shared with us by the state Employment Security Department, which runs the Worksource program.:
More aerospace jobs are concentrated in Snohomish County than anywhere in the world, and the number is growing. But getting the attention of Boeing and other aerospace companies can be daunting for some jobseekers.

As recruiting ramps up, WorkSource is expanding its unique partnership with Boeing to teach applicants the résumé and interview skills needed to get noticed. WorkSource centers in Everett and Auburn are increasing the number of free workshops to once a week or more. Boeing-trained job coaches will be on hand to help applicants navigate the hiring process.

The program is already working. Some 250 who applied at Boeing but never heard back were all offered jobs after seeking help from Everett WorkSource.
The next aerospace workshop orientation session for jobseekers will be:
April 15
1 to 4 p.m.
Everett WorkSource
3201 Smith Ave., Suite 413

Similar workshops continue every other week at the WorkSource centers in Mount Vernon and Tacoma.

Stanford’s consumer-protection measure feels unanimous legislative love

In these growling economic times dogged by reports of monetary mange, how about a pound of good consumer-protection news?

One of state Rep. Derek Stanford’s consumer-protection bills, House Bill 1694, has passed both legislative chambers unanimously. The legislation awaits only the gubernatorial ink of approval to become the law of the state. Stanford’s bill brings Washington into compliance with the federal Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. What we’re talking about here is updating and streamlining many of our state’s insurance regulations, specifically rules regarding surplus-lines insurance.

What the heck, you demand to know, are “surplus lines”? Glad you asked. This type of coverage must be purchased from a company that isn’t licensed here because it isn’t available through licensed companies. Make sense? For example, surplus lines might be used when unusual coverage is needed, or for a particularly complicated policy that insurers licensed here are not able to cover.

This bill will also make sure Washington doesn’t miss out on revenue as other states switch to the new system. Tax provisions in the legislation change the basis of taxation for some types of insurance coverage. Washington state will be able to tax certain out-of-state risks. Although the amount of money is hard to calculate, the current estimate is about $100,000 a month in revenue. The surplus-lines brokers have monitored implementation of the federal law. Many of these brokers worked with the state Insurance Commissioner’s office in helping develop this bill.

Stanford’s diligent work on the legislation earned praise from state Rep. Steve Kirby, who chairs the House Business & Financial Services Committee of which Stanford is a member. Kirby said Stanford did a great job helping make sure the measure was steered properly through the legislative labyrinth.

In the House today

The House will convene on the floor at 1:30, following a Rules committee meeting.

For the morning, we have a couple committee meetings:

8:00 am Capital Budget
Public Hearing:
1. HB 2040 – Providing for assistance for financing infrastructure and economic development.
2. HB 2042 - Concerning preferences for in-state contractors bidding on public works.
3. HB 1497 – Adopting a 2011-2013 capital budget (The hearing is on the proposed substitute by Rep. Dunshee)

9:00 am Education Appropriations & Oversight
Work Session: IT Academy

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dunshee releases capital budget proposal

Following today's operating budget rollout, Rep. Hans Dunshee, chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, released a $3.1 billion construction budget proposal that focuses on job creation and fully funds $390 million in statewide K-12 construction needs.

Dunshee says the budget employs 51,780 people throughout the state and also supports economic activity and jobs related to hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, with 60,250 jobs related to those industries.

You can read more about the capital budget proposal here or see a map of projects throughout the state.

Hunter rolls out operating budget proposal

House budget-writers today released their trimmed-down budget proposal that makes substantial cuts to every part of the state budget while preserving services and programs that help educate our children, care for those not able to care for themselves, and save lives. The budget contains $4.4 billion in cuts and reductions, including carrying forward actions taken in budget bills passed last December and February (view presentation of budget and summary).

2011 Budget Rollout

“There is some good news out there,” said Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), Chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, noting dropping unemployment rates and recent profit reports from some of our state’s largest employers.

“But the slow speed of the economic recovery is still having a significant impact on our budget and our job is to make the most responsible decisions we can in these tough times,” he said.

“This budget is responsible, thoughtful, and sustainable. Our proposal spends less than the revenue we expect to collect in the next two years,” continued Hunter. “We are leaving a reasonable ending fund balance just in case those revenues drop again. But we also fund some key priorities, like basic education and levy equalization.”

“To us, a budget is as much a values document as it is a numbers document,” said Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), vice-chair of the committee. “There were some things we were unwilling to do, like eliminating the only safety net available for the poorest people who are unable to work and care for themselves.”

“While writing this budget, we looked at all these numbers,” she said. “Then we took a look at the people behind those numbers, and worked very hard to minimize the negative impact on individuals and communities in our state.”

House leaders filled the $ 5.1 billion budget hole by cutting $3.2 billion out of current levels of state spending and enacting cost-saving reforms, foregoing $1.2 billion of planned increases for things like I-728 and I-732 (the teacher salary and classroom size reduction initiatives,) and drawing $514 million from fund transfers and other resource changes.

Examples of cuts include:
  • $482 million reduction to higher education institutions (offset, in part, by increased tuition)

  • $362 million from automatic increases to Plans 1 state employee retirement plans

  • $216 million from K-4 class-size enhancement

  • $177 million from a cut in state employee salaries

  • $141 million in hospital rates and related changes

  • $108 million from changes to the Basic Health Plan

  • $100 million in reduced Disability Lifeline cash grants

  • $97 million for reduced personal care hours for long term care and developmentally disabled clients.
“This wasn’t easy – we’ve said that from the start, “said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington), “But we tried to provide a strong , sustainable foundation for our future by preserving key services while also reforming and rethinking the way we provide those services.”

Among things preserved in the House proposal are:
  • Apple Health for children

  • Levy equalization

  • Passport to College for foster children

  • Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP)

  • Disability Lifeline

  • National Board Certification for Teachers

  • Basic Health Plan

  • Family planning
House leaders also propose cost-saving reform measures including Governor Gregoire’s proposal to consolidate printing, IT and General Administration services into a new Department of Enterprise Services. Other reforms include:
  • Ending recent retire-rehire practices

  • Saving future pension costs

  • Incentivizing better high school and college graduation rates

  • Investing in new K-12 funding formulas

  • Moving our health care system forward – more managed care, bridging to federal health care reform

  • Modifying the Disability Lifeline to serve primarily as a housing program

  • Merging several arts and heritage programs
More information about the proposed budget can be found online. You can see a list of bills necessary to implement the budget here. The proposal will receive a public hearing at 3:30 this afternoon.

Today in the House: Operating and capital budgets to be released

The House will convene at 10:00 this morning for caucuses. No floor action is planned.

This afternoon will be busy as the House operating budget is released.

At 12:15 in House Hearing Room A, Ways and Means Chair Ross Hunter, with Vice-Chair Jeannie Darneille and Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, will present the proposed House 2011-13 Operating Budget (PSHB 1087). Documents will be available at the press event and we'll also post them online.

At 1:00 pm , Capital Budget Chair Hans Dunshee will release the proposed House 2011-13 Capital Budget (PSHB 1497). Documents will be available online at that time - we'll post the link later today.

3:30 pm Ways and Means Committee
Public Hearing on House operating budget proposal

The hearing on the proposed Capital Budget will be tomorrow at 8:00 am.