Friday, January 27, 2012

Activists of all ages take Olympia!

Citizen activists come in all shapes, sizes, and ages! Yesterday afternoon, Representative Mary Helen Roberts had the pleasure of meeting with some very young and equally adorable elementary school students.
Students from King’s Elementary in Seattle sat down with Rep. Roberts and asked hard-hitting questions, such as “What bill is your favorite?”
For those who can’t make the trip to Olympia, Rep. Roberts often visits classrooms throughout her district.
In fact, just last November, Rep. Roberts visited Meadowdale Elementary in Lynnwood to see first-hand how budget cuts are affecting classrooms. KING 5’s Mimi Jung covered Rep. Roberts’ trip, and the segment is available here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Breaking the criminal cycle

According to the Violence Policy Center, Washington state is tied for 4th place with states for the most drive-by shootings. Just last week, a multi-agency sweep in Eastern Washington resulted in 25 gang-related arrests. With gang activity an ever-increasing problem, how do we help at-risk youth avoid a life of violence and criminal activity?

Rep. Connie Ladenburg has found a way to break the criminal cycle before it breaks our young people – by encouraging the establishment of juvenile-gang courts. Her legislation calls for "a strategic and collaborative approach" in putting an end to juvenile gangs.

"Gang court is a tool for rescuing kids from a nightmare," Ladenburg emphasized.

Ladenburg's House Bill 2535 received a public hearing in the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee Tuesday afternoon. To watch the hearing on TVW, click here.
"Juvenile-gang activities in cities and communities of all sizes are a threat to public safety, as well as being a terrible, dangerous menace for so many children themselves."
Another promising measure is Rep. Luis Moscoso’s House Bill 2432, which would promote local intervention and prevention programs to reduce gang violence through the creation of the Criminal Street Gang Prevention and Intervention Grant Program Account.

“This problem will not go away on its own.  We need to start putting effort, money and the collective resources of communities and local law enforcement into strategies that actually work,” Moscoso said. “Let’s focus on preventing our kids from getting into violent gang activity in the first place by creating and increasing opportunities available to youth to keep them off the streets.”

Moscoso’s bill hearing held on Monday can be watched on TVW here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Washington, Seattle rank with the best in new “Top 10” lists

Congratulations, Washington! Three new top 10 lists are once again shining the spotlight on our role as a national leader.
The Puget Sound Business Journal reports today that the conservative Tax Foundation’s 2012 State Business Tax Climate Index  ranks Washington as having the seventh best business-friendly tax climate in the nation.  Washington climbed four spots on the new list, rising from the 11th best in the nation on the 2011 rankings of business-friendly tax climates.
Meanwhile, a ForbesWoman study found that women still only earn between 70 to 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, but that some cities shine when it comes to pay for full-time, year-round female workers. ForbesWoman scoured the United States to find the Best Paying Cities for Women. Coming in at #10 (drum roll):  Seattle.
If you can read this you may be one of the reasons Seattle is number two on yet another top-ten list. According to a Central Connecticut State University study of the most literate U.S. cities, Seattleites are some of the best readers in the nation, second only to Washington D.C.
The study used newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources for its findings.
Washingtonians cheer when the Huskies or Cougars make the top 10 in college football. Ranking with the very best in measures of economic competitiveness, fairness and literacy gives all of us a good reason to cheer for Washington, too.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Proposed changes to Discover Pass get public hearing today

Last session, legislators saved all 120 of our state parks from closure by implementing a new user fee system.  Beginning last July, vehicles entering state parks needed to display an annual "Discover Pass" (or a day pass) in order to park.  While there is some flexibility for those who are only parking momentarily to use the restroom or drop off recyclables, vehicles without a pass can be ticketed.

The intent behind the legislation was to prevent the shuttering of state parks, the majority of which are not self-supporting.  And in fact,  41 other states already charge user fees at their state parks, so Washington was in the minority of states that did not.

While thousands of Washingtonians have purchased Discover Passes since they became available last summer, these sales haven't generated enough revenue so far to stave off more cuts to the parks system.  So lawmakers are examining possible tweaks to the Discover Pass program that may make it more user-friendly, encourage more people to buy the pass, and keep the gates at our parks open.  Among the proposals being considered are allowing the pass to be transferable among vehicles in the same household, capping the pass fee at $30 even, and clarifying which state lands require a Discover Pass for parking.

Today in the House General Government Appropriations and Oversight Committee, five bills that propose changes to the Discover Pass will get public hearings.  The bills are:
The hearing takes place at 2:00 p.m. in the John L. O'Brien Building, Hearing Room C.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can we do more with less?

That’s the ultimate question most organizations are constantly trying to answer in this new economy.
In the last three years, revenue shortfalls have forced the legislature to cut over $10 billion in state spending.

Although all state agencies have taken dramatic cuts to their budgets over the last three years, they still have essential functions to perform. They’ve had no choice but to find ways to perform their duties with fewer resources.
Our institutions of higher education have stepped up to this difficult challenge and implemented several efficiencies across their campuses. To site a few examples:  
  • The University of Washington has reduced its administrative units by sixteen percent. Both UW and WWU have eliminated over 40 academic programs at their campuses.

  • Washington State University has eliminated over 1,000 courses from the course catalog and reduced or eliminated 25 degrees.

  • Our community and technical colleges are also becoming more efficient through expanding open course libraries, reducing the need for remedial courses, and streamlining college assessments and placements.

With another $1.5 billion shortfall looming, additional cuts are likely. House Democrats are continuing to find ways to streamline government. 

Today, the House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 2585 - a bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) - that would give colleges and universities more flexibility with certain aspects of their operations such as competitive bidding and payroll direct deposit.
“HB 2585 helps our higher education system act more responsibly and efficiently,” said Springer.
Margaret Shepherd with the University of Washington stated in testimony in support of HB 2585 that it would lead to over $1 million in savings annually at the UW. 

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Statement by Rep. Hans Dunshee on Jobs Now

I appreciate how everyone is working together – business and labor, the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats – to create jobs.
It’s an urgent need, with 30 percent of construction workers unemployed on the west side and 60 percent east of the mountains. There rightly is a sense of urgency.
I’m releasing proposed lists of construction projects in the House version of Jobs Now so that people can see what this would look like and where jobs would be created.
The House and Senate lists of construction projects are a little bit different, but those differences will be easy to bridge. We stand united behind the goal of helping our state’s construction workers, veterans and small businesses get back on their feet, doing good work that will benefit our state for decades to come.
Click here for a link to the documents about proposed projects around Washington state.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Lytton, Seaquist host teletown halls this week

How do we do more with less?

For the last several years, lawmakers have been looking at innovative and less-expensive ways of communicating with their constituents. Teletown halls were recently embraced as a cost efficient way to reach out to constituents during the legislative session.

Rep. Kristine Lytton
Reps. Kristine Lytton (D-Anacortes) and Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) will be hosting hour-long teletown hall conversations this week.

Rep. Lytton’s call with those living in the 40th Legislative District will happen tonight at 6 p.m. She’ll discuss what’s going on with education including her trio of bills that would help teachers and principals grow in their careers, give school districts greater spending flexibility, and increase state funding for all-day kindergarten programs.
Rep. Larry Seaquist

Rep. Seaquist’s teletown hall for 26th Legislative District residents will start at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, January 26. As the chair of the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Seaquist is excited to have a conversation about the latest in higher education funding. He’ll also discuss other topics like the state budget situation and the economy. Callers will be encouraged to ask their own questions during the conversations.

Registered voters within these districts will be called when the teletown halls begin. Those that do not receive a call and would like to participate can call 1-877-229-8493 and enter the ID code “18646.”

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Washington Investment Trust idea moves ahead

What if there was an institution that could finance public projects that support economic development, create jobs, increase public health, safety and quality of life, improve the environment, promote community vitality, and even offer low-cost loans to struggling students?

Rep. Bob Hasegawa believes such an institution is possible in our state and he’s sponsoring a measure to create it.  He calls it The Washington Investment Trust, and the idea is having its first public hearing this week.

Hasegawa said that although the Washington Investment Trust is modeled after the Bank of North Dakota, this startup legislation is much narrower in approach because it will focus on infrastructure lending to municipal governments and student loans.

HB 2434 is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday, January 26 at 8:00 a.m. before the House Committee on Business & Financial Services, in House Hearing Room B of the John L. O'Brien Building.

The companion bill, SB 6310 will also get a hearing on Wednesday, January 25 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Housing & Insurance, Senate Hearing Room 2 of the J.A. Cherberg Building.

“The Washington Investment Trust will keep our money in Washington, working for Washingtonians instead of ending up in Wall Street,” Hasegawa added, referring to taxpayers’ money that goes into an account held in a private bank which makes—and keeps—an interest off that money. 

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Legislature hears ideas to end capital punishment

Rep. Reuven Carlyle  introduced a bill last week that would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state. If enacted, HB 2468 would impose a punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for aggravated first degree murder.

“The death penalty is beneath us as a civilized society,” said Carlyle.  “It is economically inefficient. It is unjust to the victims’ families because of the frustration of years of delay in allowing a form of closure. It is inequitably applied across race, class and social status. It does not achieve deterrence for other criminals.”
The first electric chair, which was used to execute William Kemmler in 1890.

For more of Rep. Carlyle’s thoughts regarding the death penalty, check out his blog here.

The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972 but reinstated it in 1976 giving states the authority to enact death penalty statutes. Thirty-seven states reauthorized capital punishment shortly after the court ruling.

New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois recently abolished the death penalty. New Jersey spent $254 million on death penalty convictions without a single person being executed. Only five people have been executed in Washington state since it was reinstated in 1981. According to the state Department of Corrections, eight men are currently on death row with sentences dating back as early as 1991.

A companion bill - SB 6283 – is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. To watch the hearing on TVW, click here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Should juveniles automatically be shackled when they go to court?

That's a question that will be considered this evening before the House Early Learning and Human Services committee.

Rep. Ruth Kagi is sponsoring a measure that gives detention staff and judges the discretion to decide whether leg irons, belly chains, and other types of restraints should be used when transporting a juvenile to and from court, as well as in the courtroom itself.

Currently, only seven of Washington's 39 counties do not routinely restrain children who are brought to court.  A juvenile's behavior in and out of the courtroom, the crime he or she is accused of, and whether or not the juvenile even committed the crime are not generally taken into account.  Rep. Kagi believes all these factors should be considered.

The bill was supposed to have a public hearing last week, but severe winter storms caused several legislative committees to cancel or postpone their meetings.  The Legislative Calendar shows which committees are meeting today, as well as time and location.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Marriage equality has first hearings today

Will Washington become the next state to pass marriage equality?  Today marks the next step toward answering that question as committees in both the House and Senate hear bills that would make civil marriage between same-gender couples legal.

SB 6239 will be heard this morning at 10:00 in Senate Hearing Room 2, and HB 2516 will be heard at 1:30 this afternoon in House Hearing Room A.

TVW plans to cover both hearings, as well as a press conference on marriage equality at noon.

Here's a sample of the news coverage on the issue from over the weekend.

Committees to hold gay marriage hearings Monday

A state with justice and marriage for all | Jerry Large

Gay marriage gaining momentum in WA Legislature 

To read this story in Spanish, click here.