Friday, March 16, 2012

Worker deaths hit historic lows

The number of people dying due to workplace injuries hit an all-time low in Washington state during 2011 – despite our state having a higher population than ever before.

The Department of Labor and Industries says 51 workers died on the job last year.

While even one death is a tragedy for the worker and family members left behind, businesses and the state have worked hard on improving safety. Thankfully, worker safety is better.
Photo credit: Hazard_general

A total of 51 deaths is far less than the historical average of 80 to 90 work-related deaths per year. It’s much better than even the previous low of 65 worker deaths, back in 2009.

The most dangerous jobs are typically those in farming, forestry, fishing, manufacturing and construction.

Want more? You can read the full Labor and Industry report here, via the series of tubes.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Dream award for Dreamliner

What do you call the greatest aeronautic achievement in America in 2011? You call it the “proudly Washington-made 787 Dreamliner,” that’s what!

Photo credit: Dave Sizer
Earlier this week the National Aeronautic Association announced that our very own Boeing 787 Dreamliner was chosen for the 2011 Robert J. Collier Trophy, one of the aerospace industry's most prestigious honors for excellence.

The competition was tough, but the Dreamliner beat its three contenders, the Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, the Gamera human-powered helicopter, and Pipistrel's Taurus G4 electric-powered airplane.

The 787 Dreamliner is the first fuel-efficient, mid-size commercial airplane capable of flying long-range routes. It wrapped up 2011 by setting two world records in its class, one for speed and one for distance.

The Collier Trophy, first awarded in 1911, was designed to encourage innovation in aerospace by emphasizing improved performance, efficiency and safety. Past winners include Orville Wright, the Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 Moon mission team, and Boeing for several airplanes, including the 747 and the 777.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reports of this bill's death have been greatly exaggerated (with apologies to Mark Twain)

As we recently noted, some very good bills that made it through the House met untimely deaths over in the Senate amid the procedural drama of Friday, March 2. And the reality is, every session there are scores of great bills that don't quite make it all the way through the process before the clock runs out. It's the nature of lawmaking in our democracy.

However, it has been brought to our attention that the Associated Press is reporting the death of one great bill that actually isn't dead at all.  In fact, it's very much alive and headed to the governor's desk for signature.

House Bill 2499, sponsored by Rep. Andy Billig, requires ballot measure campaigns to identify their top five donors in advertisements.  In the video below you can watch Rep. Billig's speech on the House floor in favor of the measure, in which he describes how our state's ballot initiative process - originally conceived as a "safety valve" against the influence of special interests - has been "turned on its head." This bill brings transparency back to the initiative process, so the public is better informed about who is paying for advertising in favor of - or against - specific measures.

It passed both House and Senate with bipartisan majorities.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Reform begins at home

Looking for examples of the streamlining of state government to save taxpayers’ money? Search no further than the Legislature itself, which is consolidating some separate House and Senate operations to increase administrative efficiency.

Under House bill 2705, sponsored by Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington and approved by the Legislature in the 2012 regular session, a new Office of Legislative Support Services will consolidate audio-visual and other production services, facility management, information distribution and other administrative functions. The reform will save an estimated $366,000 a year.

Gov. Gregoire is scheduled to sign the bill March 15.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Boeing employment on the rise

We’ve known for years that no region builds airplanes better than Washington state, and recent employment figures from Boeing seem to reflect that fact.
 The number of Washingtonians on Boeing’s payroll is the highest it has been in over a decade. At the end of February, the company reported employing 82,325 workers across the state and has added nearly 9,000 workers since the end of 2010 alone.
The increased employment is largely due to the growing demand. Boeing plans to increase airline production at both the Renton and Everett plants. In addition to manufacturing jobs, development of new airliners, like the 737 Max, has led the company to hire more folks in the engineering field.
House Democrats have long-championed new investments, funding and reforms to foster growth and create jobs in the aerospace industry. The results of this public-private partnership 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
To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Got housing issues? Maybe we can help!

The economy is getting better and our unemployment rate is lower than it has been in years, but times are still tough, and one of the hardest hit areas is housing. This session we passed bills that will help the homeless, provide housing assistance, and lend a hand to homeowners in crisis.

We’re supporting proven services that reduce homelessness with HB 2048, which expands highly successful programs that provide services for the homeless. On any given day, 23,000 people are homeless in Washington. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, will raise $126 million over the next five years for state and local homeless programs via a $10 increase in certain document recording fees.

With the passage of HB 2640, we’re improving the cost-effectiveness of housing assistance. This measure will help Housing Trust Fund dollars go further by emphasizing cost-effectiveness of investments. It requires the Housing Trust Fund to consider both total costs and the cost of housing per unit when reviewing applications for funding.

HB 2614, sponsored by Rep.Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, is a comprehensive bill aimed at helping homeowners in crisis by providing alternatives, remedies, and assistance. This measure brings clarity to the short-sale process. A short sale is when a lender accepts a discount on a mortgage to avoid foreclosure. But in some cases the homeowner is still on the hook for the outstanding debt.  HB 2614 creates a notice mechanism so that homeowners are informed if the lender/bank will still collect what’s left of the debt after the home is sold, and it reduces the amount of time, from six to three years, that lenders have to pursue homeowners for remaining debts.

To further help struggling homeowners, HB 2614 was amended to include the provisions of two other consumer protection bills that got stuck in the legislative process:

Rep. Tina Orwall’s HB 2421 makes important changes to the Foreclosure Fairness Act of 2011 to make the mediation program run more smoothly, and streamline the demands on lenders:
  • Meet and confer process can be over the phone.
  • More time for scheduling mediations.
  • More time (120 days instead of 90) between the notice of sale and the trustee sale.
Sen. Adam Kline’s SB 6515 provides remedies for when a home is lost due to mistakes in the trustee sale. Currently, if you lose your home because of a mistake in the foreclosure process, it is impossible to get it back. These provisions allow for the trustee sale to be void if:
  • There was an error in the foreclosure sale process.
  • There was an agreement for a loan modification or other agreement to postpone the sale.
  • The services accepted funds to satisfy the loan when they had no legal duty to do so.
To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New law saves taxpayers millions on sex offender costs

A new reform will crack down on what The Olympian called “runaway legal costs for violent sex offenders.”

Loopholes in the legal system allowed court cases to drag on for years, with an average cost of $39,000 per inmate every year.

Special Commitment Center, McNeil Island
Photo credit: DSHS
Lawmakers worked together to fix the system with Senate Bill 6493, which is estimated to save taxpayers $1.8 million per year on legal fees for the 280 sexual predators locked up at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Now, these aren’t regular inmates, filing lawsuits that the state is somehow paying for out of taxpayer’s pockets.

McNeil Island is a special case, because these sex predators have served their sentences and are now confined on the island because they’ve been ruled a continued threat to society and not ready for release.

So they have legal rights, and it’s important for the state to handle court questions right – because if we don’t, these violent predators will win their cases and get out. They’ll be back in our communities and at high risk to re-offend.

The new law balances the need to handle court cases correctly – and keep violent sex offenders away from our kids and families – while ending a payment system that was out of control.

Here’s what The Olympian said about the details in the new reform:
 Among other things, the legislation:

• Creates yearly contracts with about two dozen attorneys statewide to provide legal services for sexual offenders. The contracts will replace costly hourly billing by defense attorneys, fees that were hard to track and contain.
Hourly billing was also a disincentive to bring cases to the courtroom in a timely manner. It is not unusual for continuances and delays on civil commitment trials to drag on for years. These types of delays are costly to taxpayers and clog up the court system.
• Transfers the legal costs from the state Department of Social and Health Services to the state Office of Public Defense, which should improve fiscal accountability for the program.
Under the old system, DSHS paid the fees for attorneys and expert witnesses, but had little control over the expenditures, which were authorized by judges and a maze of local officials before they reached the state agency.
In another cost-savings move, the cost of prosecuting the offenders, including state psychological evaluations, will move to the state Attorney General’s Office from DSHS. Again, this should provide better fiscal control over costs.
The changes in the process for both prosecuting and defending sexual predators was long overdue. Legal costs were averaging about $39,000 per year per offender.
That was an outrageous cost born by taxpayers, a cost that should drop significantly with unanimous passage of Senate Bill 6493.

Read the whole editorial here
Aerial view of McNeil Island
Photo credit: Dept. Of Corrections
To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reps. Pettigrew and Seaquist are calling constituents this week

Rep. Eric Pettigrew
If you live in the 37th or 26th Legislative Districts, you may receive a phone call from one of your state legislators this week.  Telephone town halls are planned for two separate evenings.

Tomorrow evening, beginning at 6:00 p.m., Rep. Eric Pettigrew will be calling households throughout the 37th District, which includes the Seattle neighborhoods of Rainier Valley, Madrona, North Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Mt. Baker, Leschi, Columbia City, southern Capitol Hill, and Skyway as well as parts of Renton.

And on Thursday evening, March 15, Rep. Larry Seaquist will hold his second telephone town hall of the year, also beginning at 6:00 p.m.  He represents the 26th Legislative District, which includes parts of Pierce and Kitsap counties, including the communities of Gig Harbor, Port Orchard, Purdy, Olalla and parts of Bremerton.

Rep. Larry Seaquist
If you are a resident of either of these districts, and do not receive a call to participate on the night of the event, you can still join the conversation by calling toll-free 1-877-229-8493, and entering ID code 18646 at the prompt.  This number is only available when the town hall is in session.

While not a replacement for live, in-person town halls, telephone town halls provide a way for legislators to speak one-on-one with constituents and answer questions about specific issues.  Telephone town halls also have a higher participation rate than in-person events.  For example, nearly 5700 people participated in Rep. Seaquist's January 26 telephone town hall.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.