Friday, April 6, 2012

Never say never

Rep. Dickerson with granddaughter
on Children's Day
Never call a Mary Lou Dickerson bill “dead” until the final gavel falls.  Such was the lesson taught, yet again, by the Friday afternoon House passage of the Toxic-Free Kids Act (House Bill 2821).

If the Senate follows suit, Washington could soon become the first state in the nation to ban children’s products made with a toxic flame-retardant known as “TRIS.”  With apologies to the cereal ads, “TRIS is not for kids.”

Concerned moms and dads joined experts ranging from nurses and doctors to firefighters in calling for the ban, because TRIS has been linked to cancer and other health problems—and the biggest risks are to the youngest kids. What is more, there are plenty of safe alternatives to TRIS.

Mary Lou and House Democrats are no strangers to leading the nation on children’s safety.  Our Children's Safe Products Act of 2008, was the first state law in the nation to ban lead, cadmium and nasty phthalates in toys and other children's products—but Congress soon followed our lead by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to regulate lead and phthalates in toys.

Will the Senate join the House in passing the Toxic-Free Kids Act before the special session ends? Stay tuned... 

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

They just keep getting bigger…

Recently, Washington has received high marks in terms of county-by-county health, government transparency, AND childcare safety.

Pretty good, right? Just wait because that’s not all - The Tri-Cities metro area tops yet another list, receiving the top spot for the fastest growing metro area in the nation!

Photo credit: Skeezix1000
From the Tri-City Herald this morning:
Population in the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland metro area grew by 4.3 percent between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, the bureau reported.

Franklin county came in not too far behind as the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation. With the biggest numerical boost in population between 2010 and 2011, Moses Lake ranked in the top 10 for micro areas.

To read the full article in the Tri-City Herald, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Democrats approve budget with no cuts to education

The House Thursday passed a state budget that closes a $1 billion-plus revenue gap while protecting funding for K-12 schools and higher education and maintaining the safety net.

Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, assured House members the $31 billion spending plan is responsible, sustainable and will put the state on solid ground heading into the next two-year budget cycle. During floor debate, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington said that he would be proud to bring this budget home to his constituents – especially those students preparing to enter the workforce.

The 54-43 vote for the budget (ESHB 2127) sends it to the Senate.

A key to the House-passed plan is better management of the state’s collection and distribution of local sales taxes. The modernization, endorsed by the state treasurer, will provide a $238 million boost to the bottom line.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

New state law halts further child-pornography victimization

Consider, if you will, today's conundrum:

How could it be that our judicial process would actually sanction and contribute to the further production and distribution of child-pornography? 

We'll tell you how: A Washington State Supreme Court ruling five years ago (the oft-discussed Washington v. Boyd decision) required that the defense in a child-pornography case must be allowed access to the pertinent photographs depicting children in sexually explicit conduct.
Rep. Connie Ladenburg

So in this year's legislative session, state Rep. Connie Ladenburg advanced and won support for a measure stopping this further victimization of youngsters whose lives have already been so terribly brutalized.

The successful legislation, House Bill 2177, has indeed been signed into Washington law. Ladenburg's bill bars the copying or creation of additional child pornography during the discovery process in such a trial. Sometimes during this discovery process, as directed in the state high court's ruling, the court is ordered to copy child pornography and even make more copies of it. And that, Mr. or Ms. Concerned Blogster, certainly isn't something done with any other illegal contraband.

"Our state shouldn't sanction any further reproduction of this despicable material in court cases. It's that simple," said Ladenburg. "This new law is about protecting kids."

Specifically, the bipartisan legislation spells out that in child-pornography cases:

  • The material can be examined by the defense, but it must remain in the actual custody of law- enforcement people or court people.
  • A mirrored hard drive can be made available for expert-examination by the defense if the court determines that such examination is justified.
  • When it is no longer needed for the trial, the child pornography in question will be destroyed.

"As a parent of five children and grandparent of 10, my heart goes out to children who have been victims of child pornography. It is one of the worst crimes that can be committed against children, and it has lasting, devastating effects," Ladenburg stated. "Having any of these terrible pictures copied yet again, and viewed by anyone yet again, is unacceptable. We cannot let children be harmed any more than they already have been. This bill protects children from further victimization in child-pornography cases."

"Child pornography is contraband, just like illegal drugs, and we should treat it like contraband,” said Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. “We don't duplicate and distribute illegal drugs for trial, and prosecutors shouldn't be required to duplicate and distribute child pornography for trial. This bill will stop this offensive practice." 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

House Democrats release budget proposals

Rep. Hans Dunshee at this morning's press conference
As the end of the special session approaches on Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled a good faith plan in a press conference this morning to move forward on a compromise with the Senate around government reform measures, an operating budget, and a capital budget.
The reform measures are currently being discussed in the House Ways & Means Committee. You can also read about the numerous government reforms championed by House Democrats in recent years here and here.
As for the operating budget, our proposal no longer includes a $330 million K-12 apportionment shift. Instead, House Democrats have proposed modifying the method in which funds are transferred to the account that distributes sales tax revenues to local governments. (More details on that proposal to follow in a separate blog post.) House Democrats remain committed to making no cuts to basic and higher education. Our budget also preserves funding for vital public services like the Basic Health Plan, critical access hospitals, and adult day health.
This budget solves a $1 billion budget deficit problem by enacting several government reforms and without raising additional revenue. This is the very definition of “moving to the middle.”
The new House budget will be introduced as a striking amendment to the original House budget – HB 2127.
Joining House budget writers Rep. Ross Hunter and Rep. Pat Sullivan at this morning's press conference was House Capital Budget chair Rep. Hans Dunshee, who spoke about the urgency of putting unemployed Washingtonians back to work by passing a jobs package.  Rep. Dunshee held up a copy of today's Olympian newspaper, in which the lead story is about the impending loss of federal long-term unemployment benefits for Washingtonians.  He also played a brief video interview of a woman who used to work as an architect for 20 years until the downturn in the construction industry.  She is now trained as an iron worker, and hopes that the legislature will approve a jobs package so that construction projects pick up again around the state.

To read this post in Spanish, please click here.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the evening of April 4th, 1968, our country was robbed of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in our history, an event that sparked race riots and tremendous emotional outpouring across our nation.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 44 years ago today while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Upon hearing the news of Dr. King’s assassination, then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said:

“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in…[W]e can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo credit: Kelson

While Sen. Kennedy was referring to racial discrimination when he gave this speech, his words can be applied to the struggle for marriage equality in our time.

The state of Washington furthered Dr. King’s dream of love and justice between fellow human beings during the 2012 session with the passage of marriage equality. We showed the rest of our nation and the whole world what kind of state we are – the kind of state where no one is a second-class citizen.

Well done, Washington.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

HDC aims to break budget impasse

Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, House Ways and Means Chair Ross Hunter, and House Capital Budget Chair Hans Dunshee will meet with reporters and members of the public at 10:00 this morning in House Hearing Room A.  They will discuss their operating and capital budget proposals and other bills the House plans to move forward with this week.

Sullivan has stressed that the operating budget proposal does not represent an agreement between the House and Senate, but does include many changes requested by the Senate Republicans. 

"If we are to have any chance at all of getting a budget finished on time, we have to get something moving," he said. "We will continue to meet, continue to talk, and continue to negotiate, but we also have to get a budget in motion."

Details of the proposal will be available on LEAP at 11:00 am.

To read this post in Spanish, please click here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“A really incredible culture of health”

The 2012 County Health Rankings report shows that folks who live in the San Juan Islands are relatively healthier than those living in Yakima. But even those living in Yakima are healthier than 90 percent of the nation in certain areas. And in the areas where Yakima ranks considerably below the best counties in the nation, its rankings are nonetheless higher than those in many other states.

In fact, Angela Russell, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin said that "Overall, it seems like Washington ... has created a really incredible culture of health."

Could this have something to do with the state’s highly successful Basic Health Plan, which has served as a model for similar programs in other states? Or perhaps with Apple Health for Kids, another state program, to cover all Washington children? Hmmm… food for thought.

But back to the report, the five healthiest counties in Washington are San Juan, Kittitas, Island, Whitman and Whatcom. The five counties in poorest health are Ferry, Wahkiakum, Okanogan, Grays Harbor and Mason.

Even though we’re doing quite well, Mary Selecky, Washington Health Secretary, believes we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. She said we still have to work on quitting smoking, losing weight and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

There’s always room for improvement, we know that, but our ear to ear smile from having heard that we have created an incredible culture of health won’t be vanishing anytime soon.

To learn more, read the Associated Press story here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

House plans to move budget-related bills forward this week

The House is moving forward Wednesday with a short list of bills that will be necessary to implement (NTIB) the supplemental operating budget.  Although an agreement on the final budget has not yet been reached, the House Democratic negotiating team wants to get the ball rolling.

Additional details can be found on our website here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Upthegrove bill good for business, the environment, and the state’s bottom line

If you drink filtered water at home or at work, you know the drill.  The filter keeps impurities out of your drinking water, which is a good thing.

In a similar fashion, boatyards in Washington state are required to install pollution control filter systems that help keep toxic runoff out of Puget Sound.

But the filters for boatyards are significantly more expensive than your average home drinking water filter.  They can cost upwards of $100,000, which is no small chunk of change.  Since most boatyards in the state are small businesses, this is a pretty significant investment for them.

Luckily, a bill that was signed into law last week will streamline the permitting process boatyards have to go through in order to install these filter systems.  It’s currently a rather lengthy process, and as they say – time is money.  An expedited process helps these small businesses as they work to comply with state law, and protects the jobs these businesses create and sustain.  Rep. Dave Upthegrove sponsored the bill, which won’t cost the state any money but helps keep Puget Sound free from toxic runoff and other pollutants.

You can read more about the bill here.

And here’s a video of Rep. Upthegrove talking about the bill when he introduced it earlier this year.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Digital textbooks coming to K-12 classrooms

iPads are replacing bulky flight manuals in the cockpit. A music library of records, cassettes, and CDs that once filled entire closets can now be stored in your phone. And after many centuries of using paper textbooks in the classroom, Washington state took the first big step towards moving classrooms into the digital age.

House Bill 2337 was signed into law last week by Governor Gregoire. The bill directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop a program designed to get open source digital textbooks in our public schools. Open source materials are vetted, peer-reviewed, and available for free or at very low cost via the internet. All open source materials approved by OSPI will align with the state’s Common Core standards.

The idea was introduced by Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle democrat, who successfully championed a similar effort at the community and technical college level.
Photo credit: Tnvols2

In addition to the $65 million the state spends each year, traditional textbooks are 7-11 years out-of-date. In today’s digital world where we can summon information at a moment’s notice, should our children be learning from textbooks written before the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Digital textbooks provide a solution to expensive and out-of-date traditional textbooks.

“Open source educational materials are the future,” said Carlyle. “They are gaining popularity with school districts all across the nation. They are simple, efficient, easy to use, and dramatically cheaper than proprietary textbooks.”

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

Washington leads the way once again in the fight against human trafficking

“If this can happen to my daughter, it can happen to your daughter,” said, in this King 5 story, the mother of a young girl who was forced into the commercial sex industry right here in our state.

Human trafficking, which includes commercial sex and forced labor, is the fastest growing international crime and the second most profitable organized crime, behind drug trafficking. The U.S. Department of State reports that 14,500-17,000 persons are trafficked into the United States each year.

But not all the victims of human trafficking had to cross our borders or reach our shores, many of them are born and raised in our state. Since October 2008, King County courts have charged and prosecuted 67 offenders for sex trafficking-related crimes. Seventy-two percent of their victims were children. Currently, it is estimated that 300-500 youth are being forced into prostitution just in King County. But there are human traffickers in other counties as well such as Snohomish, Pierce, Yakima and Spokane.

In 2002 Washington became the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking. And now we are the first in the nation to require verification of age for online ads that promote sex-related services. That was one of a big package of anti-human trafficking bipartisan bills signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire last week.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signs anti-trafficking bills into law.

The two bills we recently wrote about here, aimed at reducing the commercial sale of sex in our state by establishing heftier fines for both johns and pimps, were also among the bills to get the governor’s signature.

For more information on these and all the bills in the anti-trafficking package, go here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.