Thursday, May 26, 2011

Special session comes to a close

We made it. The House and Senate adjourned sine die late last night after reaching agreement on a 2011-13 operating budget, capital budget and other key issues.

Members and staff have been putting in very long hours this past week, so The Advance will be quiet for the next few days as people finish up business before heading out for the holiday weekend. We'll be back next week.

Safe travels for those hitting the road.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The cuts that worry him most?

House Ways & Means Chair Ross Hunter talks about the budget and predictions about when the special session will end with TVW's Niki Reading here.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Sine die update - done deals

Things have been moving quickly the past few days and just when we think we have a handle on the bills, they change. So here's a short roundup of the major late-breaking agreements that you’ve been hearing about in the news. We'll have additional updates in the coming days.

Workers comp – One of the most heated debates this year was over proposed reforms to the state’s workers comp system. The final agreement, which has already passed both chambers and been delivered to the Governor, includes provisions to help workers return to work more quickly, provides an optional structured settlement for workers 55 and older, establishes a Rainy Day Fund to minimize spikes in the premiums paid by employees and workers, and more. You can read House Speaker Frank Chopp’s statement here.

Operating budget – The 2011-13 operating budget passed the House yesterday and, as we type, awaits a vote in the Senate. It closes a $5.1 billion budget gap with $4.5 billion in cuts and some fund transfers. You can check out an easy-to-read summary here.

Capital budget and debt limit bill – The capital budget provides funding for infrastructure projects such as parks, wastewater treatment plants, community centers and school construction. The projects are funded by bonds and every year a portion of the state’s operating budget goes towards “debt service” or payment on those bonds. The constitutional debt limit is currently 9 percent. Some members, concerned that the limit is too high, sought to lower the limit but a very lively conversation ensued about details of the prop and whether it would hinder the state’s ability to fund projects that create thousands of jobs. Yesterday, House and Senate leaders reached an agreement and this morning the House approved a 2011-13 capital budget as well as the debt limit bill which phases down the limit to 7.75 percent. The capital budget awaits a vote in the Senate.

With just hours left in the special session, legislators are moving quickly to finish remaining bills.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Sine die, again

This is the final day of the special session and legislators will be on the floor for a non-stop marathon of final budget-related bills.

Rep. Ross Hunter pointed out at yesterday's press conference that there are substantially more of these bills this year because legislators had to reach so deeply into the budget that numerous policy changes are required before the cuts can go into effect.

Last night the House approved the operating budget and it now awaits a vote in the Senate. This morning the House will take up several bills including the capital budget and the debt limit bill. Many more bills are on today's list and everyone is expecting a late night, so we'll keep you posted as we go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In the House today

It's day 29 of the 30-day session, and legislators are wrapping up agreement on the session's stickiest issues.

The House is convening at 9:00, but going directly to caucus. At 10:00, budget leaders from the House and Senate will hold a press conference to outline their budget agreement. Then, it's back to the floor to begin passing more bills to be named later. It's likely to be a very long night. We'll keep you posted!

UPDATE: Budget documents are now available online.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Got questions? Wylie’s got answers

If you live in the Vancouver area, or even if you don’t live there but like to keep up with what happens in that part of the state, you have a chance to participate in an online chat with State Rep. Sharon Wylie this coming Friday, May 27 at 11:00 a.m. Follow this link to the story in yesterday’s Columbian for all the details on how to connect with the representative.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity; with things happening as quickly as they have these past few days in Olympia, I will have a wealth of information and concrete answers to my constituents’ questions,” Wylie said, stressing that she hopes the special session will be over by Friday so she can go home and get to work, as she put it: “where it really matters, with the people I represent.”

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What everyone has been waiting for...

As reported earlier today, the House and Senate reached an agreement earlier today on how to balance the 2011-13 operating budget.

Details have not yet been released. Budget leaders from the House and Senate will roll out their agreement tomorrow morning, 10 a.m. in Senate Hearing Room 4. We'll have a full update at that time.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

In the House today

The House will convene at 10:00 this morning for what could be a long day of caucus and floor action. As always, the list of bills that may come up is available here.

Later today at 5 there will be a Ways & Means meeting with a lengthy list of bills up for a possible committee vote.

Unknown at this point is whether we'll have a budget announcement today, or when the House will take up the newly-agreed upon workers comp package that leaders announced late yesterday. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Statement from Speaker of the House Frank Chopp on the workers’ compensation reform

“Decisions about the workers’ compensation system should always focus on the injured workers of our state. Workers’ compensation is a vital safety net for people who get hurt at work. We refuse to put any of them in a position where they can be taken advantage of. This proposal is a fair deal for injured workers – in fact, for all workers.

“It’s fair for every worker in this state who pays into the workers’ comp system.

“The creation of the Rainy Day Fund is a very significant reform to ensure the integrity of the system.

“It’s fair to help the vast majority of workers who suffer workplace injuries get back to work as soon as possible by providing them the highest quality medical care and vocational rehabilitation, and by offering their employers assistance for giving them transitional or light-duty work.

“It’s fair to keep workers from getting hurt in the first place by offering grants for injury prevention programs and punishing employers who leave workplace hazards uncorrected.

“And it’s a fair deal for the 73% of injured workers over age 55 who cannot go back to work to be offered more options while keeping important safeguards in place. The structured disability settlements in this proposal are a much better alternative for these workers than lump sum compromise and release. It allows them some flexibility in the amount and timing of their payments while providing certainty that they will not be pressured or intimidated into accepting a one-time check and then left on their own for the rest of their lives.

“This was not a “go-home” issue for our caucus. But we were absolutely never going to go home with any deal that was harmful to those the workers’ comp system was created to protect. I’m proud of the House Democratic Caucus who held firm for injured workers and protected the integrity of our state’s workers’ comp system.”

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.