Friday, July 1, 2011

Newest ferry sets sail today

Washington’s newest ferry, the beautiful 64-car Salish, takes to the seas at noon today to begin decades of service to the people of Washington. The historic trip comes a day after a joyous celebration at the Port Townsend Ferry Terminal welcomed the Salish to the state ferry fleet.

House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn and 24th District Reps. Steve and Kevin Van De Wege were among the leaders who spoke about the importance of the Sa and our state ferries at the welcoming ceremony, which also featured songs and dances by local Native American performing artists.

The Salish and its sister, the Chetzemoka, will serve the Port Townsend/Coupeville route, and today’s sailing marks the first time since 2007 that two ferries have been available to provide full service the route.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the Washington State Ferry System, the largest ferry fleet in the nation. There will soon be more celebrations. Another 64-car boat, the Kennewick, will enter service in early 2012, and, thanks in large measure to Rep. Clibborn’s leadership, funding was secured this year for a new 144-car boat that will add another jewel to the fleet.

Bye Bye BPA!

As we head into the July 4th weekend, Washington is declaring independence from BPA in children's food and beverage containers.

Thanks to last year's Safe Baby Bottle Bill, beginning July 1st , no bottles, cups or other containers for children under age 3 that contain the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) can be made, sold or distributed in Washington.

Parents can breathe easier knowing that their young children won't be using sippy cups or other containers that include BPA, which over 150 independent studies have linked to increased risks of cancers, sexual dysfunction, diabetes and a host of other toxic threats.

Thanks largely to the leadership of Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle) and House Democrats, Washington is a national leader in protecting children from toxic toys and unsafe food containers. In 2008, the Children's Safe Products Act made us the first state to enact strict standards for lead, cadmium, and phthalates in children's products—and Congress soon followed our lead by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The Safe Baby Bottle Law reaffirmed our leadership and commitment to kids

A year from today we will celebrate another milestone when the Safe Baby Bottle Bill bans BPA in sports bottles used by pregnant moms.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What are those folks in hard hats doing?

It’s natural to see a construction project and wonder what’s happening.

Now there’s an easy way for citizens to find out exactly what state-funded projects are happening in their neighborhood, their county, their entire legislative district – or the entire state of Washington.

There’s a new state map with links to every project in the state’s transportation budget and capital budget.

In the old days, you had to dig through the actual text of the law and find the line item, or look through pages and pages of district project lists that were hard to decipher.

This map – which you can find here – is simple and clear. You can select any county or district number to see all the projects and related information.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bittersweet news - Budget bills succeeding in driving down caseload

There are two major drivers in crafting a budget – the revenues that come in, and the expenditures that go out. Legislators, when writing a budget, have to make assumptions about how much revenue they’ll have available as well as how many people will be enrolled in various government programs and services. The assumptions are especially important in programs where there isn’t much ability to limit how many people are served, such as K-12 education or incarceration in state prisons.

The Economic Revenue Forecast Council meets quarterly to provide the budget numbers. Every few months we see headlines about whether we’re on track to collect the forecasted levels of revenue used to write the budget. There’s another forecast council that doesn’t generate the same headlines but provides equally important information – the Caseload Forecast Council.

The Caseload Forecast Council, chaired by Rep. Jeannie Darneille, provides the people numbers, and updates legislators on whether more or fewer people are enrolled in government programs. The Caseload Forecast Council met this morning for an update on projected caseloads in a range of government programs and services ranging from K-12 education to long-term care.

The news from a budget numbers point of view was good – projected caseloads in nearly every area of government are down. For example, nursing home caseloads are projected to go down 0.8 percent in the next two years, the adult inmate population by 1.5 percent, and special education 0.2 percent. This means expenditures will go down, too.

The news from a people numbers point of view are different. In most cases, caseloads aren’t decreasing due to a decrease in demand. The decreases are largely a result of policy changes made in the recent session that tighten eligibility requirements and reduce funding for programs. The policy changes result from bills “necessary to implement the budget” that legislators often pass in the final days of session. More than 50 such bills were passed this year, a far higher number than usual.

The forecasters cited HB 1547 as one example. The bill will remove an estimated 200 adult inmates from our prisons by speeding up deportation of certain criminal aliens. And HB 2065 which reduces funding for alternative learning programs such as online distance learning and parent-district partnerships used by parents who home school their children. And the enormous 70.2 percent drop in people served by the Disability Lifeline program, due entirely to reduced funding and HB 2082 which terminates the program and transitions certain clients to more targeted housing, essential need and medical care programs.

You can see all the numbers here. The next Caseload Forecast Council meeting is November 16.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Orwall gets Housing Hero Award for Foreclosure Mediation bill

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance recently presented the 2011 Housing hero Award to State Rep. Tina Orwall for her outstanding legislative work to lend homeowners a helping hand in the midst of Washington state’s worst foreclosure crisis.

“It was a great honor to receive this award,” said the Des Moines Democrat. “I am very proud of our work to create a fair process to protect homeowners and keep them in their homes whenever possible. I am grateful to the large group of stakeholders who worked tirelessly to make this happen.”

Orwall’s leadership will bring desperately needed solutions to struggling homeowners in the form of her Foreclosure Fairness Act of 2011, which created the Foreclosure Mediation Program that could benefit the 45,000 families expected to receive foreclosure notices this year.

The new law will bring banks and homeowners to the table to explore alternatives to foreclosure. It will require lenders to notify borrowers prior to foreclosure of the availability of foreclosure counseling and the potential for mediation. Foreclosure counseling will help homeowners understand all of their options and determine the best course of action.

The Foreclosure Mediation Program will begin July 22, 2011. Homeowners who wish to participate in mediation must be referred by a housing counselor or an attorney. For more information please call the hotline: 1-877-894-HOME (1-877-894-4663), or visit the program’s website:

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Spokane legislators participate in poverty and housing forum

The 3rd Legislative District team met with members of the Statewide Poverty Action Network today to listen to the issues constituents are contending with as a result of recent budget cuts to state programs.

Four panel members from the community shared their stories with Representatives Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby and Senator Lisa Brown during an hour-long forum at the Northeast Community Center in Spokane. Afterward, the three lawmakers toured the community center expansion, which features a Yakima Valley Farm Workers clinic and dental office.

The focus of the forum was on poverty and housing issues, although questions about child care and Labor & Industries complaints came up as well. Panel members agreed that job creation would be their number one priority, indicating more than once that they don't want help as much as they want the opportunity to help themselves.

All of the legislators expressed appreciation to the participants for taking the time to share their stories.

The legislators also indicated their satisfaction with the expansion project and the new health care options that are now available to the neighborhood. Funding for the project came from city-approved community development block grants, Holy Family Hospital, Washington state, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and private donors and businesses.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Four House Dems named to military committee

House Speaker Frank Chopp has newly appointed three members of the House Democratic Caucus to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Veterans' and Military Affairs.

Representatives Zack Hudgins and Tina Orwall, along with House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, are new to the committee this year. Speaker Chopp also reappointed Rep. Fred Finn, who already serves on the Executive Committee.

Rep. Finn, a United States Army veteran, was the House sponsor this year of a bill that directs the state Lottery Commission to conduct a raffle once a year to benefit the Veterans Innovations Program (VIP). VIP provides crisis and emergency relief, education, training and employment assistance to Washington state veterans and their families. State budget cutbacks have hit VIP as well, but the yearly raffle should bring in the necessary additional funds to continue helping Washington's veterans in need. Over 1800 veterans have been helped through the VIP program since it began in 2006.

The raffle won't compete with ongoing state lottery games because it is limited to the period between Labor Day (September) and Veteran's Day (November). Drawings will be held each year on Veteran's Day, beginning this year.

Photo: Members of Washington's National Guard are recognized in the House Gallery on National Guard Day, 2011. Photo courtesy of House of Representatives.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.