Friday, May 25, 2012

Legislators: With a lot of interim research to do, their work isn't done here!

Everyone who thinks the Legislature, having wrapped up its 2012 session work a few months ago, can sit back and rest easy until the 2013 legislative fun starts Monday morning, Jan. 14 -- go right ahead and take one step forward. Not so fast, there, you HDC Advance blogsters! There's a passel of research-and-development duties and assignments to cover between now and then.

Take the House Business & Financial Services Committee, just as one "for instance." Committee members and staff, as well as the hundreds and hundreds of stakeholders and other citizens concerned with such issues, have themselves a plenty-full plate. One issue in particular -- mileage-based auto insurance -- is very much on the radar screens of said committee members, staff, and other interested parties. The committee has reviewed related proposals in recent legislative sessions, including House Bill 2445, an idea that stalled in the 2012 session. Says the "Bill Report" for this thing, which might well be introduced again in some form next year:

"Mileage-based insurance" is defined as private passenger automobile insurance that:
  •  Has rates expected to be on average at least 70 percent variable, according to actual miles driven and not on estimated miles driven.
  • Is available in mileage bands of not more than 1,000 miles each.
  • Discloses the variable portion of the premium in a conspicuous manner.
 The measure, about which you can read a good deal more if you will but click that jocund link listed above, is prime-sponsored by state Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, a member of the Business and Financial Services Committee. The lead co-sponsor is state Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, who chairs the committee. A work session on the bill is scheduled for the committee's November interim meeting.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

We love our bikes and it shows

A few days ago Washington was placed on the top spot in the nation for bicycle friendliness. That’s the fifth year in a row!
The League of American Bicyclists awarded Washington the title of “Most Bicycle Friendly State” for its efforts to improve conditions for bicycling through programs, policies and places to ride.
In its press release, the League of American Bicyclists said that Washington leads the nation in creating new bicycle infrastructure and using federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects thanks to support from the highest levels of government. It’s true; in 2010, for instance,we passed a law banning texting while driving. The following year we passed another bill specifically designed to protect vulnerable road users. In the 2011-13 Transportation Budget, our state invested $21.6 million for the Safe Routes to School and bicycle-pedestrian safety programs. And this session, HB 1700, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and signed into law on March 23, updates the standards local communities use for designing bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
With this kind of support it makes sense to ride bikes as much as possible. If you’re not a cyclist, maybe this will encourage you to hop on a bike:
You can burn anywhere from 500 to 1000+ calories if you pedal away for an hour, and think of all the places you could go to in an hour! Clearly, biking is one of the best ways to stay in shape AND it is an effective means of transportation. That’s two scoops of raisins right there!
  • It’s cheap because you don’t need gas. 
  • Lower energy use helps our environment. 
  • Less traffic reduces congestion. 
  • Fewer cars means safer streets.
  • It’s FUN!
And if you’re curious about the gazillion cycling health benefits to your heart and lungs and muscles and bones and brain, check out this list.
So get your helmet and join the growing number of people bicycling across our state. The Washington State Department of Transportation conducted a statewide bicycle and pedestrian count over three days at 155 locations in the fall of 2010 in which nearly 16,000 bicyclists were counted. That’s a huge increase over the 9,600 counted in 2009.
With more and more people bicycling on a regular basis, it’s no wonder folks are saying we have an incredible culture of health in Washington. And you still have one more week to participate in "Bike to Work" for the month of May.
For more info on the 2012 Bicycle Friendly States Rankings, go here.
Washington’s Bicycle Friendly States report card is here.
A short list of Washington’s bike laws that all cyclists should be aware of can be found here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rep. Hansen hosts telephone town hall

Rep. Drew Hansen of Bainbridge Island will host a telephone town hall 6-7 p.m. Thursday, May 31. He looks forward to a live conversation with his constituents about the issues that matter most to his district and the state.

Under the telephone town hall format, thousands of constituents will receive telephone calls to their homes in Rep. Hansen’s 23rd Legislative District just before 6 p.m. May 31. The constituents may ask questions for him to answer by pressing *3 on their phones during the call, and they may listen to the live conversation to hear questions from others and answers.

Residents who do not receive a phone call may participate in the meeting by calling 1-877-229-8493 and entering the ID code 18646 when prompted.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

More Puget SoundCorps work crews forming this summer

Puget SoundCorps is helping to clean up the Sound.
We have previously told you about jobs offered by the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) back in August and September of 2011. This year they are again looking for hard workers to help clean up Puget Sound.  Read on to see if one of those jobs is for you.

A little background:  in April 2011, Gov. Gregoire signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Tharinger , which put all WCC activities under the Department of Ecology and created the Puget SoundCorps to clean up the Sound. You can read more about this legislation in Rep. Tharinger’s press release .

This year, the state capital budget included $13 million for WCC’s Puget SoundCorps projects, which will put 20 new crews throughout the Puget Sound region to work starting this summer. They will be cleaning up beaches, installing native plant species in urban areas, reclaiming land previously used for mining operations, restoring in-stream habitat, and controlling noxious weeds.

This is great news for young adults and veterans ages 18 to 25 who have been disproportionately affected by the recession in our state and are willing to work hard. No experience is required. All SoundCorps members receive first aid and career skills training. They also get specialized training to help assess wetlands, use electronic equipment, fight fires and support other types of emergency incidents.

With the new funding, the expansion of Puget SoundCorps projects will increase the WCC roster to 325 members—the largest it has been in almost three decades!

If this is a good fit for you or someone you know, you can learn more about the Puget SoundCorps program and prepare to fill out the online application to become a crew member.  The recruitment opens on July 15, 2012.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Telephone-town halls bring government home

TTH with Rep. Jeff Morris
Since you’re reading this blog post, chances are you actually have been to a town hall meeting with one of your elected officials. The Advance thanks you and your work to make government better, but this post is about those not usually in the room.
In the last few years, House Democrats have embraced a new way of reaching out and talking with their communities. As you’ve seen on the blog, many members like telephone-town halls (TTH) as a way to complement their constituent outreach. At the beginning of each TTH, calls are placed into the district inviting people to stay on the line if they’d like to join the discussion. An hour-long question-and-answer session then takes place.
“Enabling the people of my district to engage from home, if it’s a convenient time for them, has brought hundreds of new voices into the political dialogue,” said Rep. Marko Liias. “It’s great to give updates from session, but I believe there is incredible value in neighbors listening to the other questions and concerns brought up in the meetings.”
Rep. Marko Liias at a live town hall
On a TTH last week, Liias had a question from Robin in Everett wondering how to deal with the speeding problem near her home and an elementary school. Robin stated that she’s “not real politically inclined” before asking how she should go about making the area safer, possibly through installing speed bumps.
“Robin has already talked to local law enforcement about the problem, had already come up with a possible solution, and was ready to take her community problem on,” Liias said. “That’s politics and being engaged, so it was great to have the opportunity to connect with Robin and hopefully help her lead on that issue.”
On the call Liias, familiar with school walking and biking safety issues, offered to come out to check out the problem with Robin and help brainstorm ways to make the streets there safer for children getting to school.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Cottage Foods Act: Coming to a farmer’s market near you

Just last year Governor Gregoire signed the Cottage Food Act of Washington into law, which directs the Department of Agriculture to license cottage food facilities and allows the permit holder to prepare and sell certain foods in their home kitchens. State law previously required folks to operate a commercial kitchen, complete with stainless steel countertops and three sinks, in order to sell their baked goods. A full-scale commercial kitchen was out reach for most families, and this meant that a lot of cherry cobblers and blueberry muffins were being sold under-the-table without permitting or regular inspection by the local health jurisdiction. A sort of underground baked goods black market, if you will.
The Department of Agriculture is currently in the rule-making process, and the law could go into effect as early as this summer. Friday’s Seattle Times reports on some of the entrepreneurial excitement surrounding our state’s new law. From the story:
For more than a year, Jennifer Greiner Clark sold cakes under the table. Specifically, she baked them in her Ballard kitchen and not in a commercial kitchen, as the law required. When it looked like her sales would expand beyond friends (who reimbursed her for ingredients rather than paying $150 for fancy 8-inch layer cakes), Clark looked into renting commercial kitchen space. She found it prohibitively expensive, particularly because she also would need to pay for child care. At home, she bakes and decorates after her children are in bed.
Then came the Cottage Food Act of Washington, an economic blessing from the Legislature on small, home-based entrepreneurs looking to sell cakes, cookies, jams, jellies and other so-called "low-risk" foods.
"I was kind of feeling hopeless about it, and now I'm very excited," said Clark, who hopes to launch an aboveboard decorated-cake business when her 2-month-old daughter is a little older.

The law also ensures that the rule applies only to small operations, by limiting the annual revenue from a home kitchen to $15,000.  Families across the state will have a cost-effective way to supplement their income, and consumers will know that the delicious baked goods from their local farmer’s market are safe and healthy. A true win-win for Washingtonians!

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

STEM education is key to growing Washington’s economy

Two new jobs reports show that Washington’s economic recovery is accelerating and that lawmakers are smart to invest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

One new report, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows Seattle had the eighth best job growth among the top 100 metro areas in the nation over the past 12 months – posting a healthy gain of 39,100 jobs.

More good news comes from the Forbes/Praxis Strategy Group study and the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ). They’re reporting that Seattle not only led the nation in high-tech and STEM job growth over the past decade, the Emerald City is still reaping the benefits of strong growth in high-tech and STEM jobs.

The Forbes study reported in the PSBJ shows that Seattle beat out rivals such as Silicon Valley to become the best city in the nation for high-tech jobs over the past decade, with a whopping 43 percent increase in high-tech employment and an 18 percent increase in STEM jobs. The study also showed Seattle’s leadership in high-tech jobs has held firm during the past couple of years. In fact, the study says, “the Seattle metro area has posted 12% tech job growth over the past two years and 7.6% STEM growth, handily beating the performance of Silicon Valley.”

And the good news in high-tech employment continues. The PSBJ points out “Forbes' findings seem to be backed up by recent announcements that Amazon is hiring 1,000 new tech workers in Seattle and that other big tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, are expanding offices in the area.”

These numbers show we’re on the right path, but we can’t let up on the gas pedal just yet. Lawmakers like Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D-Renton) continue to push for additional investments in STEM education. In the December special session, Rep. Maxwell sponsored bills that created competitive STEM grant programs and added STEM knowledge to the Professional Educators Standards Board certification process. Both bills received bi-partisan support before being signed into law.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.