Friday, June 22, 2012

Rules are falling but the sky isn’t

Can state leaders protect the public interest while slashing regulatory costs for Washington’s businesses? You bet they can! In 2011, for example, lawmakers enacted huge Unemployment Insurance reforms (SB 5135) that helped unemployed workers while saving businesses nearly $300 million.

Lawmakers also added real teeth to the Regulatory Fairness Act (SB 5500) and insisted that state agencies give businesses more time to fix problems before issuing fines (HB 1150). This year’s ongoing reform-work included strengthening the state Office of Regulatory Assistance (SB 6359) and revamping industrial storm-water permitting rules  (HB 2651).

But the big regulatory-relief news this week is the terrific success of a pair of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Executive Orders (10-06 and 11-03) that directed state agencies to help businesses (and save state tax dollars!) by suspending non-critical rule-making. A new report shows the governor wasn’t kidding when she ordered agencies to curb all non-essential rulemaking:

  • 75 rules were eliminated
  • 483 rules were put on hold
  • 186 adopted rules were required by law
  • 118 adopted rules were requested by the regulated communities
  • 69 adopted rules were related to managing budget reductions and related government reforms
  • 28 rules were adopted to address public health or safety concerns
  • 5 rules were necessary due to court order
  • 30 rules were adopted after negotiated or pilot rulemaking

In short, as Gary Smith, president of Independent Business Association, was quoted as saying in a recent press release from our governor, “They have proven to be successful.”  Of course, there’s always more that can be done, and House Democrats are already working on reform ideas for next year. Have any ideas? If you do, please share them with one of our HDC lawmakers You might be the inspiration for the next great state reform!

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Teens and Texting: A problem that isn’t going away

 Photo credit: Edbrown05 via Wikimedia Commons
Summer is finally here, at least according to the calendar. While we hope everyone has a fun and safe summer, this is a good time to remind our readers about a few roadway realities.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20-year-olds in the U.S. Their inexperience behind the wheel is a major contributor to crashes involving teenage drivers and too many of them engage in extremely risky and distracting behavior while driving. According to a recent survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 6 out of 10 high school seniors admitted to texting or emailing while behind the wheel in the last 30 days.

Teens are far more likely to be involved in a car crash than any other age group. Texting while driving greatly increases that risk. Since texting is a relatively new technology, the data is still being collected. However, some early research suggests texting while driving is more dangerous than driving impaired.

Most states have adopted legislation to help reduce vehicle collisions involving teens. Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers in 39 states, including Washington. Five other states have texting bans in effect for teen drivers.

Washington’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program was recently credited for contributing to the 62 percent decrease in child injury deaths in King County. GDL programs allow young drivers more time to gain that valuable experience behind the wheel without the distraction of friends in the car. GDL license holders under the age of 18 are also prohibited from using cell phones while driving. This includes talking (even with a hands free device) and texting.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Legislators laud Hood Canal “Puget Sound Champions”

Hood Canal
Yesterday, four honorees were singled out by the Puget Sound Partnership for their efforts in helping to restore our region’s major waterway to good health.  In a ceremony at the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Center, PSP’s Executive Director Gerry O’Keefe and former King County Executive Ron Sims handed out awards to three coalitions and one individual.
The coalitions include local jurisdictions and tribes that have teamed up to protect habitat, identify pollution sources, and/or engage in clean-up efforts to improve water quality.  Additionally, Pat Pearson of the Jefferson County WSU Extension was honored for her 20-year career in education and outreach on water quality issues.
Legislators whose districts include the areas bordering Hood Canal had plenty of praise for the honorees and their ongoing efforts.  Representatives Steve Tharinger, Drew Hansen, Sherry Appleton, Fred Finn and Kathy Haigh all weighed in to offer their congratulations and underscore the importance of the work being done.  A clean and healthy Hood Canal – and Puget Sound – are vital to the economies and quality of life in their respective districts.  Of course, the health of Puget Sound impacts our entire state, which is why we should all tip our hats to the work these awardees are doing.
You can read the Puget Sound Partnership’s press release on yesterday’s ceremony here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good news: Workers making more as economy bounces back

Wages went up in Washington state last year,according to the state Employment Security Department.
The average wage grew 3.6 percent as our state, and the nation, recovered from the global economic collapse.
This good news comes on the heels of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report putting Washington in the Top 10 states for creating jobs, with that report stating, “Led by the software industry, Washington is one of the few states with a growing information sector. Washington moved up five places into the top 10 largely due to its rapid short-term job growth over the past two years. The state’s manufacturing sector – led by aircraft and other transportation equipment building – significantly outperformed the national manufacturing industry since 2001. The Evergreen State added another 65,000 jobs in professional, scientific and technical services; 19,000 in securities and commodity contracts and 12,000 in electronic wholesale markets.”
The average wage grew from $48,162 in 2010 to $49,894 in 2011, according to Employment Security. The total number of workers covered by unemployment insurance increased by 37,764 last year while total earnings by workers got boosted by $6.6 billion.
From the release by Employment Security:
“Month to month,we’ve been seeing strong growth in industries that tend to offer above-average pay, and that seems to be reflected in last year’s earnings,” said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause.
The three industries with the highest wage growth in 2011 were the information sector,with wage growth of 9.5 percent; company management, up 7.9 percent; and manufacturing, up 5 percent.
The 2011 numbers stood in sharp contrast to 2010, when the 2.1 percent rise in the average annual wage was caused mostly by the loss of low-paying jobs. The number of insured workers declined by nearly 32,000 that year, and wages grew by just $1.2 billion.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Return of the 3rd Legislative District mobile office!

Reps. Billig and Ormsby meet informally with constituents
Last fall, the 3rd Legislative District Team (Reps. Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby, together with Sen. Lisa Brown) conducted a series of successful “mobile offices” at various neighborhoods throughout the District.
This month, they’re doing it again. Last Thursday, Reps. Billig and Ormsby hosted one of these informal events at Indaba Coffee and answered questions from constituents (see photo). And this coming Thursday, June 21, they will be at the Thursday Market located at 924 S Perry in the East Central Neighborhood from 4 - 6 p.m.
The legislators encourage constituents to bring their questions about state government, ideas for legislation, or other feedback or inquires. The idea of the mobile office is to provide people who are unable to schedule a visit to the legislators’ Spokane or Olympia offices an additional opportunity to meet and speak directly with them – right in their own neighborhoods.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alphabet soup to nuts

“Jay-lark:” Is it a hybrid variety of bird life, an avian equivalent of the cockapoo? Or maybe a description of a good-times ramble by a beloved, bald, former power-hitting outfielder for the Mariners now hawking trucks on the radio?
Nope, it’s neither one of those things. Jay-lark is just the way state-government types pronounce JLARC, the acronym for the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee. And that committee stays busy all summer long; in fact, it meets monthly pretty much whenever the Legislature isn’t actually in session. The June meeting is coming up on Wednesday the 20th.
JLARC “works to make state government operations more effective, efficient and accountable,” the committee web site says. It pursues that mission by conducting performance audits, program evaluations and other reviews as directed by the Legislature. It regularly issues reports on its work.
Much of what the committee recommends concerns improving data collection and performance measurements to guide state agencies in boosting efficiency. But it can also call for more concrete actions, such as the suggestion that the Department of Natural Resources could trim its fleet of firefighting helicopters without compromising its role in fighting forest fires – a money-saving proposal that was put into effect.
As a joint committee, JLARC includes senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans. Current members of the House Democratic Caucus on the committee are Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Troy Kelley of Tacoma and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way.
To learn more about JLARC, visit its web site by clicking here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Photo courtesy Johntex via Wikimedia Commons
What began in Texas in the 1800’s as a celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery has since become a state holiday or state holiday observance in 40 other states as well - including Washington.
Juneteenth – which is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth” -  marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the civil war and the emancipation of slaves living in that state.  This was already two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official.  Apparently, the states in the Confederacy were doing a little foot-dragging when it came to following through with Lincoln’s executive order.  So Major General Gordon Granger, along with a couple of thousand federal troops, came to Texas to declare the institution of slavery officially dead.  Jubilant celebrations immediately followed.
In Texas, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday for over a century.  Here in Washington, a bill passed in 2007 recognizes June 19 as a day of remembrance in our state.  On this day, we honor the African American experience in our country, recognizing the evils of slavery and celebrating freedom as a human right for everyone.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Got Net? Working toward a thoroughly wired Washington

Rep. John McCoy
Led by state Rep. John McCoy, legislative Democrats are continuing the demanding, extremely needed work of investigating and promoting broadband availability. It's a territory the investigating and promoting of which other communities, states and nations neglect at their great peril. McCoy chairs the pivotal House Technology, Energy & Communications Committee, which is monitoring state and federal work at establishing universal service reform. The McCoy committee, among its other missions, wants to find the best way to see to it that the so-called Internet Age is blind to color and economic class.
"We have before us a huge and fundamental goal," said McCoy. "It is the advancement of broadband services for citizens, communities and neighborhoods that right now are getting short shrift. We want to write -- we must write -- legislation that will strengthen broadband-availability in each of our 39 counties."
He emphasized that higher education and economic development "are intertwined with and, indeed, very closely connected with this booming technological sector of our 21st-century economy. It's fundamental that we emphasize equitable opportunities in Washington's communities of color -- and in our communities of economic injustice and socio-political disenfranchisement."
McCoy noted a recent Seattle Times editorial -- "Mining deeper (and younger) for tomorrow's workers and citizens " (Tuesday, June 12, 2012) -- lamenting the dearth of engineers and scientists who have been produced by Washington's colleges and universities. The newspaper editorial emphasizes that businesses here in the Evergreen State are crying out for more women and men who are ready and qualified to step into new-century careers.
McCoy himself has a background very much heaped in technology. Retiring in 1981, his 20-year United States Air Force career had been filled with extensive training in computer operations and programming. He then worked as a computer technician in the White House from 1982 to 1985. McCoy went on to a management career in the private sector that continued his work and calling in the field of computer programming and operations.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Stay at Work working just fine

We told you about it when it was launched back in January, but the law (HB 2123) creating the Stay at Work program went into effect a year ago, on June 15, 2011. On the program’s anniversary the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued a release reporting that so far it has reimbursed 568 employers with $2.5 million and helped 1,200 injured workers remain on the job.

The Stay at Work program reimburses some of the costs to employers who bring their injured workers quickly and safely back to light-duty or transitional work, without negatively impacting the employers’ experience ratings. It’s a great deal for workers because they can continue making a living to support their families while they fully recover, and it’s a great deal for eligible employers because they can receive up to half of the worker’s base wages for up to 66 days or $10,000 per claim.

How it works:

To learn more and read the L&I press release click here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.