Friday, April 22, 2011

Bi-partisan transpo budget on its way to Gov's desk

Earlier this week the Senate approved an updated version of the 2011-13 transportation budget proposal approved in the House last month. Today the House concurred with the Senate changes and sent the budget to the Governor on a strong bipartisan vote of 87-9.

Much of the approved budget is the same as originally proposed by the House. Some of the most noteworthy changes are related to ferries:
  • The proposed 7.5 percent fare increase will be kept to 2.5 percent
  • A new 25-cent fare surcharge will pay for a badly-needed 144-car boat (thanks to a Senate bill also passed in the House today)
  • $4 million in planned service reductions is averted (also thanks to a Senate amendment)
The transportation budget will provide nearly $6 billion for construction and capital projects throughout the state, supporting more than 43,000 jobs.

To see a list of funded projects in your county, you can go here, select the county you want to view in the drop-down menu next to “List” and click to “View Report.” You can read also find other project lists and budget summaries here.

Now, as legislators begin looking to special session next week, the focus will be on wrapping up the operating and capital budgets.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Complete Streets bill keeps everyone looped in

The loop is big enough for everyone. And for sure, you’re darned right: Everyone should be kept in it when the subject is Washington’s transportation infrastructure. That’s the simple message, profoundly stated, in state Rep. Jim Moeller’s successful “Complete Streets” legislation this year in the state capital.

“Motorists and their passengers, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists have a right to know that it’ll be safe going for them when they hit the road,” said Moeller, whose House Bill 1071 has cleared both legislative chambers and is on the governor’s desk. Terms of the measure direct the Washington State Department of Transportation to talk with local jurisdictions before the department undertakes any highway-design work or major repairs to city streets that are part of a state highway.

Carrie Dolwick, State Policy Director for the Transportation Choices Coalition, pointed out that “transportation advocates are very pleased the Legislature is taking a more serious look at how we strike a balance for all modes of transportation in Washington. This bill is a first step to allow state resources to be invested in streets that are for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper.”

“When you’re talking about this concept of ‘complete streets,’” Moeller explained, “you’re talking about designing and operating streets in a way that guarantees safe and reliable access for everyone – and that includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public-transportation users, and motorists. Although it’s obviously true that many cities are already built out, the grant program in this legislation will, first of all, allow opportunities for making those city streets much more efficient, and, second, improve the infrastructure for all users,” he continued.

”It’s really very simple: We need to champion an inclusive transportation infrastructure that is tied indivisibly to the idea of one Washington, with opportunity for all who travel and traverse that infrastructure. This legislation reflects the genuine need for an inclusive transportation infrastructure.”

Discover Pass will keep state parks open

Washington has 119 state parks, and until now, access to those parks has been free. Unfortunately, with a budget gap of more than $5 billion, legislators have had to find a new way to fund the management and maintenance of these lands and prevent closing or mothballing certain parks.

With today's passage of a bill to create a Discover Pass, Washington joins 41 other states across the nation that have some type of user-fee system for state parks, including neighboring states Idaho and Oregon.

Visitors can purchase a $30 annual pass that provides access not only to state parks, but recreational lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. For those not wanting an annual pass, visitors will have an option to pay a $10 day-use fee. The bill also calls for 12 days each year when entry to the parks will be free.

Read more about the bill here.

(Photo: Fort Flagler in Port Townsend - courtesy of Washington State Parks and Recreation Committee)

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

In the House today

We will convene on the floor this morning at 10:00 am. The plan for the floor is undetermined right now, but there is some interesting committee activity scheduled for this afternoon.

3:30 pm Ways and Means
Public Hearing:
1. HB 2078 - Funding K-3 class size reductions by narrowing and repealing certain tax exemptions.
2. HB 2087 - Funding mental health services by repealing the nonresident sales tax exemption.
3. HB 2102 - Restoring funding to in-home care services.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

And the 2011 LAs’ Legislator of the Year Award goes to…

This afternoon the House Democratic Caucus Legislative Assistants (LAs) presented their 2011 Legislator of the Year Award to an unsuspecting Rep. Tina Orwall in a quick, but nonetheless moving, ceremony held in the HDC Room.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award and to be part of a legislative team that works so hard on behalf of the people across our state,” said Orwall, after having regained her composure from the surprise of being elected as this year’s recipient.

The LAs’ Legislator of the Year Award evolved during the 2007 Legislative Session, after a discussion on what constitutes a good legislator/assistant working relationship. LAs agreed that a good legislator’s work would reflect the Democratic principles that should be prevalent in all aspects of the House of Representatives, and they felt that, by highlighting the conduct of members who display the characteristics most in tune with those principles, the House of Representatives’ environment would be enriched.

LAs are encouraged to vote for someone other than their own member, which gives the award more credibility.

“This award not only defines what we feel is a person who respects the work place and is an effective legislator, it also says their work is important and their dedication is appreciated,” said Kim Moores, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Kathy Haigh and coordinator for the Legislator of the Year Award.

Here are some of the qualities that LAs based their decision on:

 Capacity to listen
 Productive time management
 Keeping appointments
 Being on time
 Appreciate and recognize the accomplishment of others
 Give clear instruction and expectations to staff
 Practice teamwork
 Trusting and loyal
 Maintain balance and adaptability
 Effective legislator, working across the aisle and the rotunda
 Respectful, polite and courteous

Now that’s music to my ears

Rep. Marcie Maxwell teamed up with Music Aid Northwest, a local non-profit organization, to provide an innovative solution to help supplement funding for music education statewide.

“We must acknowledge the essential value of music education and continue to promote a well-rounded curriculum for all Washington students,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell’s House Bill 1329, which is now on its way to the Governor’s desk, makes it possible to create and sell “music matters” special license plates to benefit music education programs in Washington schools.

“Rep. Maxwell’s skilled leadership and drive helped pave the way for a more promising future for music education statewide,” said Gigi White, Secretary of Music Aid Northwest and wife of Alan White, world famous drummer from the English rock ban, Yes. “We are grateful for the opportunity to make a difference here in Washington state.”

For details on House Bill 1329, please click here.

One year later: oil spill lessons learned

A year ago today, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the tragic start to what would become the largest marine oil spill in history. The economy and quality of life in the Gulf region will take decades to recover fully.

With the stroke of the governor's pen this afternoon, Washington became the first state in the country to pass significant new environmental legislation to reflect the lessons learned from the BP disaster.

“Our citizens expect us to be able to respond quickly and effectively in the case of a large oil spill. To do so is key to protecting our quality of life and our economy here in Washington state, from the Columbia River to Puget Sound," said Rep. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island, the prime sponsor of HB 1186. "This bill will help maintain our state’s evergreen legacy.”

Rolfes' bill puts a series of expanded and new responsibilities on oil companies that operate in Puget Sound, the Columbia River, coastal waters and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They will need to take greater responsibility, at their own expense, for the safe travel of oil tankers, with updated contingency plans and proper equipment in place for a swift, effective response in the event of a spill.

Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound is a confined body of water, meaning an oil spill here cannot easily disperse into the open ocean. A large spill would stop marine traffic up and down the Sound. Although Washington doesn't have offshore drilling as in the Gulf of Mexico, each year about 4,000 tankers deliver 15 billion gallons of oil via Washington waterways.

More information is here.

Check out this video with Reps. Rolfes, Upthegrove and Hudgins about oil spill response efforts:

If you believe the Evergreen State is peaceful, now there’s data to support that claim

Can the level of peace in a state be measured? The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) says it can and has issued the first ever United States Peace Index (USPI).

The Index defines peace as “the absence of violence,” and to rank the states, it looked at a set of five indicators per 100,000 people:
• Homicide rates
• Violent crimes
• Percentage of the population in jail
• Number of police officers
• Availability of small arms

According to the USPI, a state’s ranking is strongly correlated with 15 socioeconomic factors, including high school graduation rates, infant mortality, access to basic services, labor force participation rates, and rates of poverty and teenage pregnancy, while median income and political affiliation don’t have an impact on a state’s level of peace.

The USPI ranks Maine as the nation’s most peaceful state, Washington is tenth and Louisiana is the least peaceful state.

“The Index underlines the negative impact of violence on our economy, and reinforces the idea that minimizing violence, through job creation programs and increased access to education and healthcare, dramatically increases the prospects for growth,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “We should be mindful of this when proposing domestic discretionary spending cuts that will not only disproportionately impact those most vulnerable to violence and poverty, but will also hinder our collective prosperity.”

Kennedy’s comment is timely as many states, including ours, are struggling with insufficient revenues.

To learn more about the USPI and to check out how other states rank, go here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Share your Washington!

If you could do something that takes only 30 seconds of your time to help create 20,000 jobs in Washington and gives you a chance to win a couple of free plane tickets, would you do it?

All it takes is inviting a friend to visit Washington state. Go to the Washington Tourism Office to check out instructions on how to send an electronic postcard invitation to at least one person.

That’s it.

And there is no limit to the number of times you can enter as long as each invite goes to a valid e-mail address.

Tourism is Washington state’s fourth largest industry, it employs 143,800 people, creates $4.3 billion in earnings, generates total direct visitor spending of $15.2 billion and generates $1 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Those are all very good reasons to Share your Washington!

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

In the House today

We will convene on the floor at 10:00 this morning to consider the last few items on the concurrence calendar.

It’s possible we may run the Capital Budget later in the day. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Senate passes operating budget bill

The Senate just approved their budget proposal. You can read about it here. Now, House and Senate budget-writers will head into negotiations.

Saving lives. Period.

Here at the capital, it’s sometimes difficult to see or quantify the impact a certain bill will have once it’s signed into law.

Not so with one signed into law this past Friday. This one will save lives. Period.

The problem: Each year, hundreds of workplace hazards across the state are left uncorrected, exposing many workers to potential dangers while a business owner appeals a citation issued by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). Abatement of serious violations is automatically put on hold the moment an employer appeals. Some remain uncorrected for months or years. This loophole had left workers vulnerable to serious harm or even death.

In Washington, about 10 percent of all citations are appealed annually, and while most businesses correct hazards during an appeals process, many do not.

Senate Bill 5068, says when a business is cited for a serious or willful violation that could result in serious injury or death, they still have the right to appeal the ruling, but they must fix it. Period.

Rep. Chris Reykdal sponsored the House version of the bill and worked closely with House members Tami Green and Mike Sells, as well as stakeholders and L&I experts, to protect workers and make sure workplace hazards aren’t neglected.

Joining the lawmakers were steelworkers from the Tesoro refinery, making the trip down to Olympia to celebrate the bill’s passage. The refinery was the scene of a tragic explosion last April, which resulted in the death of seven workers.

L&I’s investigation revealed that Tesoro, despite warnings, “disregarded a host of workplace safety regulations, continued to operate failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic damage and failed to adequately protect their workers from significant risk of injury and death.”

The agency cited the company for 39 willful violations. A willful violation is a category of violation where an employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it, while a serious violation is one involving an instance where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

While no one can say for sure whether those deaths would have been prevented, this new law certainly means lives will be saved in the future. Period.

More information about L&I’s implementation of SB 5068 can be found here.

Lots of jobs for folks in the right fields

There’s good news and bad news in a recent report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB). The good news is that, despite the recession, the number of job openings for people who receive degrees in high-demand fields is increasing; the bad news is that, currently in our state, there are way more job openings than qualified workers to fill them.

The Regional Needs Analysis Report notes that the strongest statewide demand is for degree holders in the areas of:
• Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM);
• Health sciences such as nursing, allied health, medicine, biosciences;
• Specific teaching fields (science and mathematics);
• Business management and accounting.

By the year 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in our state will require some postsecondary education. About 20 percent of those jobs will require some college but no degree, and about 47 percent will require an associate degree or higher.

But right now Washington is not producing enough high-demand degree holders – especially in the STEM fields – to meet its current and future needs. Back in February, Rep. Larry Seaquist, Chair of the Higher Education Committee, talked about the issue here.

To keep employers from continuing to import talent to fill those positions, the Legislature has passed numerous measures in the past few years to increase advanced degree production in Washington state. Here’s a small sample of bills passed for this purpose:
• Enhanced STEM instruction (2010: HB 2621)
• University engineering programs (2009: SB 5276)
• Applied baccalaureate degree pilot program (2008: SB 5104)
• HECB Strategic Master Plan (2008: HCR 4408)
• Get Ready for Math & Science Scholarship Program (2007: HB 1779)

These laws are helping us build the skilled workforce needed to satisfy Washington employers. But we’re not there yet, and the current economy is making getting there an increasingly difficult struggle as we grapple with adequately funding our colleges.