Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rest in peace, good little bills

In case you missed it, a little drama unfolded last night on the Senate floor. While it may have made for some interesting television for procedural junkies like us, it also meant that a lot of bills didn’t get a vote ahead of the 5:00 PM opposite house cut-off for policy bills.

Among the causalities on the Senate’s floor calendar:

HB 2503: This measure would have given veterans and members of the National Guard priority registration when they sign up for college classes. The extra time to secure their classes would have given our veterans ample time to get that information back to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

HB 1217: The ‘Safe Streets’ bill would have given cities the option to set speed limits as low as 20 MPH on non-arterials. Cities can currently take this action, but not without a costly study on traffic and engineering.

HB 2717: Legislation to encourage colleges and universities to report efficiency measures they’ve taken. That information is later shared across our state’s higher education system, encouraging other institutions to take similar actions in order to reduce their bottom line.

HB 2372: A consumer protection bill to cap towing fees when your car is impounded on private property. Following widespread reports of price-gouging by predatory towing companies, this bill would have ensured that no Washingtonian is held hostage by recovery fees equal to a month’s rent.

These are just a few of the bills we are mourning over here in the HDC today.

Speaker Frank Chopp talks session

Wonder what the Speaker of the House thinks about the 2012 session?  Well, here you go!  Frank Chopp sat down with TVW’s Austin Jenkins on Thursday’s episode of Inside Olympia: 

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Statement from Speaker Frank Chopp on the actions of the Senate Republicans today

“The Senate Republicans have exercised the worst abuse of power I have ever witnessed in the legislature. It says something about them that the minute they gained power, they abused it.

“They immediately moved to run over the minority on the floor by denying them the right to even see the budget bill before asking them to vote on it.

“They immediately turned their backs on the rights of the people by dismissing all calls for public testimony. Yes, the party that regularly decries the lack of transparency in the legislature cut the public out of the process completely.

“As for their budget proposal, from what little we’ve heard, it shreds the safety net, eliminates state food assistance, housing and medical care for the disabled, and continues the Republican war on women by eliminating family planning grants.”

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

New teacher/principal evaluations rolling out statewide!

Back in 2010, the Legislature set out to mend Washington's broken teacher/principal evaluation system with a measure that is currently being piloted in several school districts around the state. Well, the initial reports have come in -- and by all accounts, the new system is working splendidly, though there is room for improvement.
This is where Senate Bill 5985 comes in. This session, the Legislature approved a measure to make improvements in this new evaluation system. In order to ensure that there's a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school, some of the changes to the new evaluation system include:
  • Implementation: The new evaluation system will be phased into school districts during the 2013-14 school year, and must be fully operational by the 2015-16 school year. Until then, the pilot schools will be continuing to report best practices in order to help with statewide implementation.
  • Professional development: The new system seeks to invest and use the strengths of every individual teacher and principal. Senate Bill 5985 also ensures that each district will be equipped with the necessary tools and resources to implement the new evaluation system.
  • Four-tier evaluation program: Unlike the old two-tier evaluation system, the new system includes four tiers: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished.
  • Student-growth data: A substantial factor in the new system is the use of student-growth data in evaluating teachers and principals. However, safeguards are in place to ensure that the data is used objectively, fairly, and consistently in every district.
In building upon the expertise of our pilot schools, Senate Bill 5985 works with teachers and principals to give Washington kids the very best education possible. If we expect out kids to compete -- and win! -- against the world tomorrow, we'd better make sure they receive world-class schooling today.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Veteran Seattle lawmaker Gutiérrez Kenney announces retirement

Upon announcing that she will not seek re-election this November, State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney released the following statement: 
“I feel truly honored that the people of North Seattle have allowed me to represent them all these years. It has been a wonderful experience. Every decision I have made has been with their best interests in mind; I hope they feel that I have served them well.

I have enormous faith in the people of Washington state. They can be tough on their elected officials, but that’s because they believe that we, as a state, can and will be better. I share that belief.

By the end of this term, I will have served 16 years in the Washington State House of Representatives. The House is an institution that I hold very dear to my heart, and I count many of my colleagues – on both sides of the aisle – among my friends.

We may not see eye to eye on some issues, but I believe all of us, Democrats and Republicans, come to Olympia with a true commitment to the people we represent and a true desire to make our One Washington a better place for all.

I thank my husband Larry and all my kids for their love and support, but also for putting up with my absence three or four months out of the year, for many years.

And lastly, I am grateful for the trust, partnership and support of North Seattle residents, for making my service in the House so tremendously rewarding. While I will be out of elective office in 2013 for the first time in 16 years, I hope to continue my involvement and find new opportunities to serve our community and our state.”

House Speaker Frank Chopp issued this statement:          

“To me, Phyllis’s story is the embodiment of the American Dream. Born to migrant workers, she spent her early years working in the fields. But she believed in the promise of this country and in the value of education and look at what she achieved!

However, she never forgot her roots. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of the underrepresented in our state, improving conditions for farm workers, fighting for educational opportunities for lower-income students, and providing shelter for the homeless.

We are going to miss her.”

For Rep. Gutiérrez Kenney's biography, please click here

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

March comes in like a lion, but we’ll take these types of winds anytime!

Yesterday we gave you the good news that Washington’s unemployment rate has dipped to 8.3 percent, which is pretty significant; especially when you consider that in February 2011 we were at 9.1 percent down from 10 percent in February 2010.
We’ve come a long way, baby!
And we’re not alone; looks like unemployment rates are steadily falling nationwide. The Washington Post reported this morning that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to the lowest point in four years; clearly, this means the U.S. job market is improving.
The story went on to say that the economy added 243,000 jobs in January, the most in nine months, and that economists expect another strong month of hiring for February.
But there’s more good news for America: According to a Federal Reserve Board report released yesterday, the U.S. economy started the year with busier factories, higher retail sales, more jobs, and growth in home sales.
These are all unequivocal signs that the economy is indeed getting better across this great nation and in our state. We’re about one week away from the conclusion of this year’s legislative session and we are confident that the measures House Democrats are putting forward will increase and speed-up this prosperous trend.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Physics vs. philosophy

Debate over the proper role and form of higher education probably dates back to Plato’s Academy, but the discussion is alive and well, not least of all in the Legislature. It swirls around such issues as career preparation, accountability, performance measurement and new instructional technology.
Photo credit:
 In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Columbia University Professor Andrew Delbanco weighs in on the subject, and comes down in defense of the value of a liberal education.

To read the complete article, click here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The budget has passed the House!

A budget that is balanced, supports basic education, maintains the social safety net, AND keeps higher education affordable – at the same time as per-capita revenues are at a 50-year-low? That is exactly what Rep. Ross Hunter and the House Democrats have put forth in their 2012 supplemental budget (HB 2127).
While it was necessary for some cuts to be made, the 2012 supplemental budget that just passed the House tonight continues to fund vital programs like Disability Lifeline medical services and the Basic Health Plan. Elimination of the Basic Health Plan would mean 35,000 residents would be completely uninsured, not to mention removing all hope for the 150,000 Washington residents on the waiting list. By keeping these important programs running, we are enabling Washington to bridge the gap to 2014, when the Affordable Care Act is expanded, providing insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of Washington residents.
This budget will also enable Washington to better meet its “paramount duty” to fund basic K-12 education, as reinforced by the state Supreme Court in January.
This budget actually spends less than the most recently projected revenues. After adjusting for inflation, Washington state is currently spending at 1985 levels, with the lowest state and federal tax rates in 50 years. These are hard times financially, but let’s not forget the February official revenue forecast which included the first increase in four years, as well as a predicted decline in welfare cases. In layman’s terms, this means $400 million on the upside. 

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Washington is going back to work: ESD says many thousands of citizens are new on the job

How about another mighty fine sign that we could well be putting the Great Recession in the ol' rear-view mirror? The Employment Security Department says the Evergreen State's employment rate actually soared last month, gaining an estimated 13,200 jobs. For you "statheads" out there, this means that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate plummeted to an estimated 8.3 percent.
Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said that the new and improved figures "show that our economy is gaining strength, and that’s great news to start the new year." The department also points out that December's previous estimate of 10,700 job losses has been turned around. In fact, we're talking about a gain of 100 jobs! Further, "benchmarked data" show that Washington actually gained upward of 53,500 jobs in 2011, compared to the 26,600 job-gain previously reported.
But you're no doubt wondering what in the name of Sam Hill "benchmarked data" means, right? OK, listen up: The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics just put the finishing touches on its yearly benchmarking project. Wage reports turned in by employers were blended with other timely details to firm up previously estimated unemployment rates and job numbers for each month of 2011. This latest, strongest research is what shows that we really gained more jobs last year than we thought we did at first. Professional and business services and retail trade reported the strongest job-gains, while the government sector had the most job-losses.
Want more info? Check out these websites:
* Read the full report here.
* Read more labor-market info here.
* Read about state and local trends here.

Fresh ideas for Washington's future

A group of 13 House Democratic freshmen kicked off a conversation this morning to discuss plans for the long-term fiscal health of Washington and bringing fairness to the state tax code. These lawmakers are bringing a number of issues to the table such as simplifying the B&O tax, requiring periodic legislative review of tax preferences, and adopting a capital gains tax.
Washington is the only state exempting out-of-state residents from paying sales tax. Rep. Kris Lytton has plans to end this loophole and, by redirecting the estimated $52 million/biennium, is pushing to fully fund all-day kindergarten.
Rep. Steve Tharinger stressed the need for careful analysis of the tax giveaways that have been in the books for almost a century, to see if those funds could be used in better ways to help rural communities that have not been spared from budget cuts.
A measure to re-balance the tax burden was put forth by Rep.Laurie Jinkins, which would apply a five percent excise tax on capital gains in excess of $10,000/year. This would generate approximately $1.4 billion per biennium that would be used to protect education and health care from further devastating cuts. 
The House Democratic freshmen realize these aren’t solutions to the state’s immediate budget problems, but rather emphasized this new approach to funding our state’s most vital services, ensuring long-term stability for Washington residents.
The legislators are planning a summer ‘listening tour’ in their home and neighboring districts to discuss these proposals with their constituents.
To read the press release about this morning’s news conference, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Watch the press conference below:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making the Discover Pass work better

The House passed a measure today that makes the Discover Pass more user-friendly while helping bring in more money for our state parks and recreational lands.
House Bill 2373, sponsored by Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, makes changes to legislation from last year that ushered in a new user fee at our state parks.
Hoh Rainforest
Photo credit: IdLoveOne
One of the major changes came from massive constituent feedback.  The annual Discover Pass, which permits a vehicle to park for more than 15 minutes at any of our state parks, was initially not transferable among vehicles or family members.  Households with more than one vehicle complained about having to buy more than one pass, and sales didn’t live up to expectations, which ultimately meant less money for the parks.  In fact, the parks system is making deep cuts due to lack of anticipated funds.  While all parks will still remain open to the public, there will be deferred maintenance, and many park ranger positions are being cut or shifted from year-round to seasonal.
The bill advanced today allows the pass to be transferable between two vehicles, and also creates the opportunity for a “family pass” that will cost more than a Discover Pass but can be shared among all members of the same household.  As HB 2373 moves on to the Senate, supporters are hopeful it will make it all the way to the governor’s desk so that the changes can be implemented and many more Discover Passes can be sold this year than last.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

And the Cammy goes to...

While we may not have a huge theater and a red carpet like they do in Hollywood for big screen stars to celebrate their glamorous Academy Award Ceremony, we do have starlets of our own and they get awards, too. 
Last night during the TVW Annual Gala held at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia, Rep. Tina Orwall won a Cammy for her reaction to a technology malfunction when she was presiding as Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore over the House Floor on February 1, 2012.
Watch the clip right here:

“As if presiding weren’t already a bit nerve-wracking because you’re there with your peers sitting in front of you, visitors up in the galleries and a TV camera watching your every move, when suddenly there are technical difficulties and all you can do is shrug, laugh a little and move on,” said the Des Moines Democrat about the mishap that won her one of this year’s Cammys. “But I am happy to receive this award. It will serve as a reminder that even though we’re facing very tough decisions this session, there was also a little room for comic relief.”
Orwall is no stranger to the rostrum; she did a great job the first time she took the gavel back in April 2009, and was named Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore in January 2011.
 “The annual TVW Gala is an evening where everyone in the legislative community can come together for a night of entertainment, laughter and fun.  The presentation of the Cammy Awards is always a highlight of the event and we congratulate Rep. Tina Orwall as a well-deserved honoree this year,” said Greg Lane, President of TVW.
TVW has been presenting a handful of the coveted Cammy Awards each year since 2003. Cammy Award nominations are selected by the TVW production staff and then voted upon by the guests at the TVW Gala. The Cammys recognize some of the most unusual, humorous or embarrassing moments from committee hearings or floor action covered by Washington state’s public affairs station. 
You can watch all of the February 1 Floor action on TVW by clicking here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Business benefits from ’08 legislation

Photo credit: Philip A. Dwyer
The Bellingham Herald
Back in 2008 the legislature passed a bill to define craft distilleries in Washington, as well as providing a reduced license fee for their operation. The bill also allowed for limited sampling and retailing of the distillery’s products.
The purpose of the change was to level the playing field between small breweries, wineries and distilleries while supporting Washington agriculture. According to the Bellingham Herald, the measure is working and has led to a significant uptick in business for craft distilleries across our state.
Dave Gallagher at the Herald reports:
The reason for the sudden boom in craft distilleries is because of changes in state laws. Dry Fly Distilling of Spokane led the way, working with the state to create an industry that could be regulated in terms of small onsite samples and how much can be sold to a single customer, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Once the rules were established with Dry Fly, it allowed others to consider the possibilities of producing craft liquor.

To read the entire article, including how business is booming for Whatcom County distilleries, click here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.