Friday, January 6, 2012

Stay connected throughout the legislative session

Most state legislatures will begin their legislative sessions in the next few weeks. Washington’s legislature will convene for a 60-day session starting on Monday. Among one of the top priorities will be to continue work balancing the operating budget.
The struggling economy has taken a toll on operating budgets all across the nation including right here in Washington. Unlike the federal government, our state government is required to approve a balanced operating budget. We cannot carry over operating debt from one biennium to another.
Requiring a balanced budget is good fiscal policy. But as a result of that requirement, we’ve had to cut over $10 billion in state operating expenditures in the last three years as revenues have not kept pace with demand for services.
Washington lawmakers convened for a special session in December to get a head start on the budget problem. About $500 million in “down payment” budget cuts and fund transfers were approved, but that was only the first step. There’s still a shortfall of about another $1.5 billion that must be addressed. The shortfall can be mostly resolved through reduced spending (budget cuts), raising revenue (tax increases), or some combination of the two.
We hope you stay connected with the House Democrats throughout the legislative session (and beyond) to stay current on budget and other discussions. We’ll do our best to keep you informed on the latest information. There are several ways to stay connected with us:
To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Cindy’s “Reaching for the American Dream” video reaches White House top 20

The term "American Dream" was coined by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America. He defined it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement... It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
Eight decades later, people from all walks of life—and even from distant places in the globe, continue finding that America is, indeed, the land of opportunity. 
When the White House asked Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to tell their stories in a nationwide video challenge, state Rep. Cindy Ryu, a Korean-American, decided to share her journey in pursuit of the American Dream.
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders recently announced that Ryu’s “Reaching for the American Dream” video has been selected as one of only 20 semi-finalists in the national “What’s your story?” challenge, which gathered hundreds of videos from across the United States.
Ryu said that her experiences in Shoreline and the 32nd Legislative District show that America is still the land of opportunity, “I think it is important for people, especially young people, to appreciate the blessings we enjoy as Americans, because we must all work together to preserve the American Dream for future generations.”
A group of judges will review the top 20 videos and select 10 that will appear on the White House website. The public will then be invited to vote for their favorite videos, and the top winners will be invited to share their stories in person at the White House.

Read the full press release here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Proposed laws hope to boost voting, democracy

There’s nothing more fundamental to democracy than voting.

One citizen. One vote.

That was a radical concept, an idea that has now spread around the world.

Yet many people don’t vote. They haven’t even registered to do it.

As this story in The Stranger shows, three proposed laws – introduced by three Democrats and two Republicans -- would make it easier for Washington voters to get into the habit.

Motor Voter, Turbo-ChargedHouse Bill 2203 would expand today’s motor-voter system. Instead of being offered the chance to register to vote when you get your driver’s license, or renew it (opt-in), the system would automatically register you to vote unless you say otherwise (opt-out).

Vote to the DeadlineHouse Bill 2204 would let citizens register to vote up to 5 p.m. on election day, or eight days in advance of a special election. Right now, state law cuts people off from registering to vote 29 days before elections if you do it online and eight days before the election when you do it live, in person, at your friendly county auditor’s office.

Pre-register 16-year-olds House Bill 2205 is getting the most attention, because it would allow people 16 years and older to sign up to vote (when they turn 18) as they apply for their first driver’s license. Young people have the lowest voting turnout rates. This bill could get a lot more young adults into the habit of voting, especially now that the entire state is vote by mail. You don’t have to drive to a polling station anymore.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

46th Legislative District Town Hall THIS Saturday

  • Meet with members of the 46th Legislative District as they prepare for the 2012 Session. 
  • Inform your lawmakers of issues important to you and your community. 
  • Learn about the issues facing lawmakers as they return to Olympia. 
  • Receive an update on actions taken during the special session and the continuing budget process. 

Saturday, January 7th from 1 to 2:30 PM
North Seattle Community College Concert Hall at 9600 College Way North

For a map and driving directions, please click here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

It pays to cover kids

In case you missed the announcement amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays, our state is the recipient of a $17 million bonus payment from the federal government for our “…efforts to identify and enroll eligible children in Medicaid coverage.”  In other words, we’re being rewarded for doing a great job of providing health care coverage to children in our state.
This isn’t the first time we’ve received a bonus for our Apple Health for Kids enrollment numbers. Last year we received over $20 million, and the year before nearly $8 million.
Making sure all children have health care coverage has long been a priority for House Democrats.  When the legislature had to cut billions from the budget in 2010, it resisted booting kids off Apple Health as a way to save money. 
And last year, legislators passed a bill that made changes to state insurance laws so children could receive coverage on individual plans without being subjected to pre-existing conditions limitations.  This prevents kids from falling through the cracks and being left without any coverage.
While we still haven’t changed eligibility requirements, the current budget situation has forced some recent changes to Apple Health.  Mainly, families with undocumented children who earn between 201 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level now face increased costs in order to receive coverage.
You can read more about our bonus award from this article in The Olympian.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy new bill!

Not only did the new year begin Jan. 1, but several bills passed by the Legislature in 2011 took effect that day.

Most legislation approved last year did not kick in Jan. 1: The default effective date is 90 days after the end of a session – but the Legislature can set a different date.

Of the nine bills passed in the November-December special session, only one took effect Jan. 1: A money-saving measure that postpones from Jan. 1, 2012 to July 1, 2015 the application of a 2010 law expanding the criteria for the involuntary commitment of dangerous mentally ill persons.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Governor calls on legislators to approve marriage equality

Governor Chris Gregoire made a historic call for marriage equality this morning in Olympia. Joined by Reps. Jamie Pedersen, Marko Liias, and Laurie Jinkins, Gregoire called on the legislature to deliver her a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by the conclusion of the regular legislative session.
“Today, I’m announcing my support for a law that gives same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington- the same right given to heterosexual couples,” said Gregoire.
In the past few years alone, House Democrats have taken significant steps to ensure equal protection under the law for gay and lesbians across Washington.  Just two years ago, the legislature passed and voters OK’ed Referendum 71, which expanded rights for same-sex couples but fell short of marriage equality.
Following the governor’s announcement, House Speaker Frank Chopp said “Our caucus has a proud history of supporting equality for all people in Washington. Every family should have the same rights and responsibilities under the law, and I appreciate Governor Gregoire’s support of marriage equality.”
“It’s good for families, it’s good for the state, and it’s the right thing to do,” added Speaker Chopp. 
If signed into law, Washington would be the seventh state in the country to expand full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
You can find the full text of the governor’s speech here, as well as the video here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

49th Legislative District Town Hall

Your 49th Legislative District lawmakers - Rep. Jim Moeller, Sen. Craig Pridemore, and Rep. Sharon Wylie - cordially invite you to a town hall meeting on:

Saturday, January 7, 2012
10 a.m. to noon.
Public Service Center 6th floor Hearing Room
1300 Franklin Street, Vancouver

Keep your lawmakers informed on the issues that are important to you and your community so they can better represent you in Olympia, and if you have questions, be sure to bring them along.

Get briefed on the actions taken during the December Special Session to close the budget gap and learn about the bills your lawmakers will be working on when the regular Legislative Session convenes on Jan. 9.

Let’s kick-off the New Year with the best foot forward by getting the conversation started!

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chris Reykdal wants you...

Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia)
…to participate in tonight’s telephone town hall, that is.

Rep. Chris Reykdal will be spending the evening discussing the upcoming legislative session and last month’s special session, as well as taking questions directly from constituents.

If you are a resident of the 22nd Legislative District and have a burning question for Rep. Reykdal, or would simply like to hear what he has to say, be sure to pick up the phone when he calls you at 6 p.m. tonight.

If you do not receive a call, you can call toll-free 1-877-229-8493 between 6 p.m. to  7 p.m. to connect to the live event.

This is the first telephone town hall for Rep. Reykdal, who hosted an in-person town hall last spring at Garfield Elementary School in Olympia.

Tonight’s event will serve as a way for Rep. Reykdal to hear from constituents as we move into the legislative session, as well as another avenue for citizens to access their representatives in the legislature.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Who represents you?

Commission redraws our state’s political map

Every ten years, the political lines get redrawn after the census. It’s a complicated process, but necessary to make sure your vote counts the same as anyone else’s vote.

You can see the new Congressional and legislative district maps here, at the Redistricting Commission’s website.

Traditionally, lawmakers redrew their own boundaries. That still happens in other states, and there have been problems with that sort of system. Sometimes, political parties in power tried to draw new districts that hurt the party out of power.

Here in Washington state, the process is more open and fair. A commission of five citizens is appointed, with the House suggesting two names (one from the Democrats and one from the Republican), the Senate suggesting two and the governor picking a non-partisan, non-voting chair.

If a state is holding steady in population, this job isn’t too hard. You adjust the lines a little. But if a state is growing – or shrinking – a lot, you’ve got to rewrite the map and possibly add (or subtract) Congressional districts.

Our state grew enough that we gained a seat in Congress, with that new 10th District centered on Olympia.

We have 49 legislative districts, according to the state constitution. That number doesn’t grow or shrink according to the population. The districts do grow or shrink, depending on their population. What redistricting does is make sure every legislative district has roughly the same number of citizens, so your vote counts the same as any other voter in the state.

The process just finished this year, with all five commissioners working together to travel the state, listen to citizens and redraw the maps.

All the commissioners voted for the final plan.

Here’s the joint statement from two of the Democratic commissioners:

January 1, 2012
For Immediate Release: Joint Statement    
Redistricting Commissioners Dean Foster and Tim Ceis

Redistricting Commission reaches historic agreement
For the third time, the Washington State redistricting process has worked.

This is a bi-partisan process and it is always a challenge dealing with competing objectives.  But we have reached a fair and equitable resolution that will serve the citizens of Washington well. 

There were many historic changes in the adopted plan, including the addition of a 10th congressional district to Washington as well as a majority minority 9th Congressional District.  The Commission also agreed to the first majority Latino district in our state and brings the total number of minority majority legislative districts to four.  The 15th Legislative District, which is now comprised of over 54.5 percent Latino population, reflects the growing diversity of central Washington and the state as a whole.

The adopted Legislative and Congressional plans strive to equalize population, minimize unnecessary city and county splits, and keep communities of interest intact.  The amount of public comment we heard throughout the process was instrumental in helping us make this determination and we thank the public for their participation.

The redistricting process included unprecedented public participation including 18 public hearings around the state, interactive web-based comments, and incorporation of comments from county auditors.  The process has been successfully completed and it is now submitted to the legislature.

Details of the agreement can be found on the Redistricting website.

Contact:  Amy Ruble 360-786-7222

New legislative district boundaries as approved by the Washington State Redistricting Commission on January 1, 2012.
To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Give me your yen, your peso, your euro, yearning to be spent freely

More than 140,000 Washingtonians had a job to go to last year thanks in large measure to the tourists who pumped more than $15 billion into the Evergreen State economy.

And actually, everyone else here also benefited because these visitors kicked in $1 billion for state and local taxes. Check these reports from the state Department of Commerce, as well as information from the Washington State Tourism industry.

Things are looking up, way up, for tourism all across the land. In fact, a recent Los Angeles Times story, "Spending by foreign tourists at record level," discusses very encouraging new details in a recent report from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Folks from around the globe are on their way to spending more in the United States than foreign visitors have ever spent here before.

Spending from international tourism, according to predictions from the travel and tourism office, might very well top $152 billion in 2011. Such a mark would eclipse the previous top standard of $141 billion rung up in 2008.

Take this past October, for instance. The federal agency noted that foreign visitors plunked down $3.1 billion that month to travel to the United States -- and then spent upward of $10 billion buying things and doing stuff after they got here. That October 2011 figure was a 13-percent increase over the same month a year ago.

It's also estimated that Canada (31 percent), Mexico (13 percent), China (10 percent), and Brazil (7 percent) will make up two-thirds of the expected climb in international visitation to the United States the next five years.
M/V Tacoma
Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation.
The Washington Ferry System, a very popular tourist attraction, is the
largest ferry system in the world carrying nearly 23 million riders per year. 
To read this story in Spanish, click here.