Friday, December 2, 2011

The state of children in Washington state

Coach Dave Quall – former chair of Education and longtime member of the House – always asked, “Is it good for the boys and girls?”
That was his test of whether a bill should pass.
The bigger question is, “How are the boys and girls doing?”
Children’s Alliance teamed up with the Washington State Budget and Policy Center to form KIDS COUNT and to take a look at how kids in our state.
Their new report, State of Washington’s Children, is a snapshot of data about kids, including information on education, poverty and hunger.
While our state has many advantages and strengths – including the nation’s top SAT scores – the report shows that we have work to do, especially in light of the global recession:
  • One in five children do not graduate from high school
  • More than 100,000 children still lack health insurance, despite a massive statewide effort to cover every child
  • Since 2007, unemployment has doubled among working moms and dads
  • 25 percent of children aren’t getting enough food
These problems are not unique to our state. But the children affected by these problems are unique to our state, our neighborhoods and our families.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A one-stop link for services

State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and House Democrats proposed an exciting new idea in 2010—an “opportunity portal” to provide fast, efficient, one-stop access to a wide array of federal, state and local benefits that are available to Washington residents. The result was a new law and the nation-leading Washington Connection ( portal.
An important milestone was reached yesterday when Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that City of Seattle benefits and services can now be accessed through Washington Connection. He noted that it’s the “first partnership of its kind in the nation between a state and a large city.”
Thanks to Washington Connections, Washington residents can quickly learn about and apply for services and benefits that include food assistance, medical assistance, cash, education, veterans benefits, home care services, housing assistance and more. It is safe, secure and lightning fast.
Washington Connections is the best kind of public-private partnership. Thanks to state and local leaders and great partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, children, adults and families in Washington are getting help they need in record time.
Making government work faster and better for people is a leading priority of the HDC. Washington Connections shows how that leadership is helping residents and communities throughout our great state.
Want to learn more?  Take a look at Mayor Mike McGinn's press release and the Puget Sound Business Journal article: Gates Foundation helps fund centralized city/state public assistance website.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

State reforms lead to reduced business costs in 2012

Rep. Mike Sells
Thanks in part to legislation passed by the House and Senate last year, most businesses in Washington will see not only their workers' comp premium stay steady, but also a significant drop in unemployment insurance costs.

This would be the first time since 2007 that L&I rates have not increased, saving businesses $150 million next year. It is important to remember, however, that some businesses still might see premium increases based on their recent claims history and risk class. For example, restaurants and retail stores will see a 3% drop, but construction and forest products could see a slight increase due to the injury claims.

As far as unemployment insurance costs, most employers in the state will receive a lower tax rate in 2012, and all rate classes will drop. In fact, tax rates for employers that had no layoffs in the past four years will plummet by 71 percent, to an all-time low for that rate class (side fact: 91% of employers in rate-class 1 are small businesses with fewer than 5 employees).

In total, the tax-rate reductions will equal about $207 million, in addition to the $300 million in savings sponsored by Mike Sells, Chair of the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee, and passed by the Legislature last year. "Without the actions we took last year to bring relief to business owners still struggling through an economic slump, these rate reductions wouldn't have been possible," said Sells. "This news, combined with yesterday's 737 MAX announcement, show that the recent steps we've taken, and reforms we've implemented to respond to our businesses' needs, are paying off." 

Kris Tefft, AWB general counsel and government affairs director on employment law and workers’ compensation, agrees: “Today’s announcement reflects the value of the reform measures passed in 2011, without which employers would surely have seen rate increases next year. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to make our case that this is not the time for any sort of rate increase on business,” said Tefft.

Here's a handy fact sheet and FAQs from ESD's website on the adjusted rates.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

December again brings call for halting drunken and drugged driving

It's time to underline and re-underline that tried and true "None for the road" rule in living rooms, break rooms, barrooms, and other potential imbibing rooms all across America. In unhappy fact, however, these upcoming winter holidays will likely suffer a greater than usual number of impaired motorists thoroughly terrorizing our thoroughfares -- hence December's stature as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. Most every citizen knows the wrenching anguish of losing a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, or an acquaintance to drunken driving – or perhaps at least knows someone who has been either injured or involved in a DUI accident or arrest.
The MADD website notes that at any given hour of the day or night, two million repeat drunken drivers are driving drunk. Again.
The tragedy hit awfully close to home for one legislator this past July. A young father is gone, killed in a car accident involving a driver under the influence. The young father was a neighbor of state Rep. Roger Goodman, who has sponsored several successful anti-DUI bills in the Legislature. Goodman said that the gentleman left two kids behind and "our whole neighborhood is in trauma." He emphasized that a drunken driver should be required to pay child support for kids who've lost their parent. The Kirkland lawmaker is fine-tuning a child-support bill as part of a comprehensive anti-DUI package for consideration in the 2012 regular session beginning Jan. 9.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

House Democrats applaud news of Renton landing the 737 MAX, contract deal

No one knows airplanes better, and no region of the world builds them better, than Washington State. That’s the message House Democrats in Olympia conveyed as news broke of a tentative deal between Boeing and its machinists’ union, leading to the announcement that Renton will be the home of the new 737 MAX.

Democratic caucus leader on the Pegasus Project, Larry Springer points to the decade of work between the HDC and the aerospace community to land the 737 Dreamliner and the tanker as the reason why the MAX will be built here. “We’ve championed new investments, funding, and reforms in recent years, fostering growth and jobs in the industry.” They include:
  • Workforce development scholarships and grants worth millions to train aerospace workers 
  • New educational state facilities providing new resources to manufacturers and workers 
  • Aerospace training programs through state community and technical colleges 
  • Streamlined permitting processes for Boeing and its aerospace manufacturing partners 
  • Reforms at L&I and ESD, which reduced premium rates for workers’ comp and unemployment insurance 

Co-leader on the Pegasus Project, Marcie Maxwell, recounted some personal memories. “I’ve watched the maiden voyage of every 737 for many years from my Renton home. Many of my neighbors are proud of their work designing and building generations of Boeing planes. This is great news for Boeing, for Renton, and for the hundreds of suppliers across 29 counties in our state.

“The bottom line is, we’re building more airplanes faster and better than ever before,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Eric Pettigrew. “And winning the new 737 MAX in Renton is a sign that we’ll be doing so for a long, long time.”

Read the full press release here.

Check out this link highlighting some recent posts that contributed to today's good news.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Take a moment today to thank first responders in your community

As you may have heard, today is “Thank First Responders Day” across Washington state. This observance began following the tragic loss of four police officers in Lakewood in 2009, and was officially established by a proclamation signed by Governor Gregoire on June 18, 2010.
According to the Thank First Responder website, “Unfortunately it seems that the community only recognizes the brave and generous acts of our first responders when tragedy occurs. We shouldn’t need something terrible to happen for us to realize how fortunate we are to have such well-trained men and women there for us every single moment of life”.
Here at the HDC, we couldn’t agree more. We’ll be taking time out from special session activity to thank our very own Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Christopher Hurst, who also serve the people of Washington state as first responders.
Please join us in thanking police officers and fire fighters in your community for the sacrifices they make to keep us safe not only today, but throughout the year.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Think you’ve got what it takes to balance the budget? Give it a try!

On Monday legislators officially convened to begin work on cutting an estimated $2 billion from our state’s Operating Budget.
If you were in their shoes, how would you go about balancing the budget? The League of Education Voters’ budget calculator lets you make those decisions for yourself.
Like lawmakers, you'll have to choose which programs to reduce funding for and which to eliminate entirely. You’ll also have the choice to raise revenue, keeping in mind that any revenue options are subject to a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature or a vote of the people.
Give it a try and be sure to let your legislators know what you would prioritize!

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What you can do to fight hunger

Nutrition is one of the basic necessities of life and yet one out of nine households in the United States struggles to put food on the table. Nearly one-fourth of those that go hungry in our country are children.
Not only do real families suffer due to lack of adequate nutrition, but the problem also has economic consequences. The Alliance to End Hunger reports that the U.S. spends more than $90 billion each year on direct and indirect costs associated with hunger. 
Food assistance programs like the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are key to fighting the battle against hunger. Through a partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OPSI) can reimburse some costs associated with providing meals to eligible programs and organizations that serve children and adults.
In 2010, the OSPI helped provide over 3 million meals to low-income children and families through organizations participating in the CACFP.
If you operate a child or adult day care center, an at-risk afterschool program, ECEAP or Head Start, or emergency shelter and are interested in applying for the program, contact Adele Roberts, Child Nutrition Services, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, Washington 98504-7200.
If you or someone you know is in need of nutrition assistance, contact the Washington Basic Food Program at 1-877-501-2233.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cuts are cuts

There’s a lot of chatter about whether the state has really cut $10.5 billion from the state budget or not.

A recent news story called some of the cuts made to the operating budget over the last three years “reductions in expected spending.”


Here are some simple facts:

Our state’s population kept growing, despite the recession.
We have more kids in our public schools.
More seniors needing health care.
More inmates in our state prisons.

Inflation means costs go up every year, even if the population doesn’t. Combine population growth AND inflation and the budget has to grow simply to keep up.

So those cuts feel quite real to the teachers and corrections officers who lost their jobs.

Those cuts are real to the working poor who lost their health coverage.

They’re real to the college students struggling to pay higher tuition at our public colleges.

Saying these cuts aren’t real is like telling your bank you aren’t paying your mortgage next month – but it’s not a real cut, because the bank only expected you to pay.

When revenue dips while the population goes up, real people suffer. And now the temporary boost our state got from the federal stimulus is ending.

Our state budget is 90 percent public schools, universities, prisons and health care.

We can’t cut $2 billion without hurting our public schools, universities, public safety and health care.  There are no easy budget fixes.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar – and a cut is simply a cut.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Mr. Smith goes to Olympia

So does Ms. Jones.

And Mr. Doe, Ms. Gonzales, and Mr. Cheung.....

Thousands of people converged on the Capital Campus today as legislators began a special session to address the current $2 billion budget hole. Among the demonstrators were teachers, school employees, parents of children with disabilities, and caregivers for the elderly -- all concerned about how the next round of budget cuts will affect them.

Below are a few glimpses of the crowd.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Special Session begins at noon today

Legislators are back in Olympia today for the start of the special session, which officially begins at noon today.

This afternoon, the House Ways and Means committee will hold a public hearing on the House supplemental budget proposal, HB 2127.  The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 4 of the Cherberg Building.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.