Friday, April 26, 2013

The Advance is moving......

Beginning today, The Advance will no longer be updated on this site. But we aren't going away -- we are just moving over to the House Democratic Caucus web page. Check out our new look!

With the move, we'll also be making this more of a blog by enabling reader comments. Starting on Monday, The Advance, along with other posts on our website, will allow readers to comment through their Facebook profiles.

As always, some topics will be off-limits to keep us out of trouble with state ethics laws and House rules. Comments that discuss political campaigns or promote commercial interests will be removed. Profane, obscene, personally abusive, and threatening comments will also be deleted. Off topic comments may also be removed at our staff’s discretion.

In short, we ask that you please keep the conversations civil, be respectful of differing opinions, and stay on topic. You can read our entire comment policy here.

Thanks for sticking with us for all these years. We'll see you over at www.housedemocrats.wa.gov/the-advance.

You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Washington Department of Revenue wins national award

Latest available data from the U.S. Small Business Administration says there were 546,885 small businesses in our state in 2010. That's 98.1 percent of all businesses in Washington! Hence, the reason you often hear people referring to small business as the backbone of our economy.

So when the Department of Revenue came up with a mobile app for both iPhone and Android to help all these businesses easily file and pay taxes accurately, the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) took notice and gave our state its 2013 Award for Outstanding Compliance Program.

The award recognizes the department's mobile device application that helps taxpayers, especially small businesses, determine the right sales tax rates to charge customers.

FTA judges said our state was the first to identify a compelling taxpayer need and meet it with a mobile app.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Day in court” for appeals of SR 520 toll penalties

Nearly one in five drivers crossing the State Route 520 bridge over Lake Washington lacks the pre-purchased windshield transponder that is "read" by electronic sensors so that the toll amount can be deducted from a prepaid or online account. For those 20 percent, cameras photograph the vehicle license plate and then mail a bill for the toll to the owner. Late payment of the toll triggers penalties: $5 for a 15-day delay, another $40 for an 80-day delay – for each crossing.

Some drivers have complained that they got slapped with the penalties, but never got the bill in the mail in the first place – maybe because they moved, were in the hospital, got divorced or for other understandable reasons. But no matter how legitimate the excuse, they've been out of luck: The judges in the state's "toll court" lack the authority to reduce or waive the penalties if the underlying toll was correctly assessed.

But that would change under a bill by Rep. Cyrus Habib that gives penalized drivers who think they've been wronged a chance to make their case – and gives judges the power to cut the drivers some slack if the argument is convincing. House Bill 1941 received final legislative approval April 23 and is on its way to the governor. Click here to read more about it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Which House Democrats are on Twitter?

Twitter may be the fastest way to hear about breaking news.

If you're interested in what's happening at the state capitol, Twitter is also a great way to keep up with your local lawmakers and the reporters who cover the capitol.

Below is a list of House Democrats on Twitter. Even if you don't have an account on Twitter, you can follow legislative news by searching for the hash-tag #waleg to see tweets about the legislature.

Click here for a shortcut to the #waleg feed.

House Democrats on Twitter 

House Democratic Caucus, @WAHouseDems

Rep. Jim Moeller (America's Vancouver), Speaker Pro Tem
@Jimmoeller 

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (Sequim), Majority Whip
@kevinvandewege

Rep. Ross Hunter (Medina), chair of Appropriations
@rosshunter

Rep. Reuven Carlyle (Seattle), chair of Finance
@Reuvencarlyle

Rep. Marko Liias (Edmonds), vice chair of Transportation
@MarkoLiias

Rep. Laurie Jinkins (Tacoma), vice chair of Health Care and Wellness
@lauriejinkins2

Rep. Larry Seaquist (Gig Harbor), chair of Higher Education
@larryseaquist

Rep. Derek Stanford (Bothell), vice chair of Capital Budget
@derekstanford

Rep. Marcus Riccelli (Spokane), Assistant Deputy Majority Whip
@marcusriccelli

Rep. Jeff Morris (Mt. Vernon), chair of Technology and Economic Development
@therostrum 

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (West Seattle), Deputy Majority Whip
@joefitzgibbon

Rep. Chris Reykdal (Olympia), vice chair of Labor and Workforce Development
@chrisreykdal

Rep. Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines), chair of Environment
@DaveUpthegrove

Rep. Larry Springer (Kirkland), Deputy Majority Leader for Jobs and Economic Development
@RepSpringer

Rep. Tina Orwall (Des Moines), Deputy Speaker Pro Tem
@tinaorwall

Rep. Monica Stonier (Vancouver), vice chair of Education
@runsinthehalls

Applications available for Legislative Youth Council

2009 Legislative Youth Advisory Council
If you're a teen, chances are you can't afford a lobbyist to represent your interests in Olympia, but laws passed under the Capitol dome have an impact on your life just the same.

Wanting to hear from Washington's young residents, legislators passed SB 5254 in 2005, which created the Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) to:
Examine issues of importance to youth, including but not limited to education, employment, strategies to increase youth participation in state and municipal government, safe environments for youth, substance abuse, emotional and physical health, foster care, poverty, homelessness, and youth access to services on a statewide and municipal basis.
In 2007, impressed with LYAC's great success, lawmakers passed HB 1052 to extend the program another two years. Finally, in 2009 they passed SB 5229, eliminating the program's expiration date.

LYAC is a 22-member council of 14- to 18 year-old students from across the state who serve two-year terms. Applications are reviewed by the Council and the Lieutenant Governor's office is in charge of making the final selection.

There are three to six annual meetings usually held in Olympia or Seattle and students are expected to attend all meetings and activities. Outside of the scheduled meetings, LYAC's members contact legislators to advise on pending legislation, draft letters and legislative reports, reach out to other youth and community organizations, and participate in Council conference calls.

This year's applications are due on June 25. Click here to download the Legislative Youth Advisory Council application.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Need to know: Annual report on Washington courts

The recently released Caseloads of the Courts of Washington report contains "data from the state's Judicial Information System," as well as "a detailed overview of the level of activity in the courts of Washington." 

Information is included in the report for every Washington Superior Court and most every Washington District and Municipal Court.

Information in this "Caseloads of the Courts of Washington" report is reviewed all the time by state Rep. Ross Hunter and other budget-writers. Hunter's striking amendment to Senate Bill 5034 that was passed out of the House the other day, 54-43, and sent back over to the Senate is crafted upon this very type of real-world information.

Budgeteers use these and related past and present details -- as well as, the estimates of future needs contained in the caseload-forecast reports.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New protections enacted for stalking victims

Stalking is a crime that affects approximately 3.4 million Americans each year. These perpetrators know no economic, racial, or societal bounds. Some stalkers are former spouses or boyfriends who are angry about child custody battles or embittered by breakups. But they can also be total strangers to the victim.

Stalking can destroy lives. They sit outside homes for hours. They follow victims to work, to the gym, and out with friends. They call dozens of times a day and make constant threats.

Stalking may go on for years and can end in murder or suicide. Victims of stranger stalking in Washington state have virtually no tools to stop these actions. Under current law, the only protection these victims can receive is an anti-harassment order. Anti-harassment orders are what neighbors file against each other over barking dogs or fence disputes. Law enforcement places very low priority on anti-harassment orders.

Fortunately, HB 1383 sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) will help save lives. It will create a new a stalking protection order, similar to sexual assault and domestic violence protection orders. This will give law enforcement better tools to stop stalkers, more protections for victims, and harsher penalties for perpetrators.

HB 1383 passed the House and Senate unanimously. It was renamed the "Jennifer Paulson Stalking Protection Order" in memory of a Tacoma special education teacher who was murdered by her stalker three years ago. The bill now heads to the Governor's office for his signature.

More information:
•    End Stalking In America, Inc.
•    What other states are doing about stalking
•    Jennifer Paulson’s story

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono/freedigitalphotos.net

Encouraging high-schoolers to study computer science

The demand for computer programmers exceeds the supply available to businesses in Washington that want to hire them. That's an opportunity that high-school students should take advantage of as they think about their future careers. But at the same time, they need to make sure they complete all the courses required for a high-school diploma.

Thanks to a bill by Rep. Drew Hansen that's nearing final legislative approval, it could soon be easier for high-schoolers to satisfy both those goals. House Bill 1472 calls for school boards to approve an advanced placement (AP) computer-science course as equivalent to a math or science course that counts toward meeting graduation requirements. Other states that do that, instead of treating the computer course as simply an elective, have seen more students enroll in computer science.

Read more about HB 1472 on Rep. Hansen's web page.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Passage of “Facebook” bill is a victory for civil liberties

We've all read about people seeking jobs and getting asked for their Facebook login information, or even told to log into their accounts right there so the interviewer can "shoulder surf".

Can employers do this as a condition for employment?

We've also heard about employers requiring their existing employees to disclose this information.

Are these requirements legal?

There's nothing in current law that prohibits employers from doing any of this. But that'll change as soon as Gov. Inslee signs Senate Bill 5211, which passed the House today on a unanimous vote.

A striking amendment -- introduced by Rep. Chris Reykdal and strongly supported by everyone on both sides of the aisle, the business community and the ACLU -- provides a clear solution to the problem of employers who demand that job applicants or current employees do one or all of these things:

  • provide the passwords to their private social media accounts such as Facebook
  • log into their accounts in the presence of the employer
  • add an individual affiliated with the employer to their "friends" lists associated with social media sites
Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.com
The legislation explicitly bars:
  •  employers from requesting or requiring disclosure of an employee or applicant's personal social networking login or password under any circumstance
  • coercive "friending" and forced logins in the employer's presence
  • employers from retaliation against employees for refusing to comply with their requests

The bill does allow investigations by employers in regards to leaks of proprietary information or to comply with law, but even then, the employer cannot request or require the personal login information or engage in coercive friending or forced logins.

If the employer is carrying out an investigation, he may request the leaked content, but there is no requirement that the employee turn it over.

In fact, this bill does not give the employer more power to force disclosure of that information than exists under current law.

With the passage of this bill, Washington joins 8 other states that have enacted some form of legislation addressing the issue.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting tough on drunk drivers

Washingtonians are three times more likely to be injured or killed on the roads than at the hands of criminals. Drunk drivers are a major cause of the tragedies in our neighborhoods and on our highways.

This afternoon, Governor Jay Inslee introduced his plan to combat chronic drunk driving at a press conference with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

House Bill 2030, introduced by Rep. Dawn Morrell (D-Puyallup), streamlines complicated DUI laws in our state. After someone is arrested for DUI, law enforcement impounds the vehicle. An ignition interlock device would be installed before returning the car back to the driver. This is a common sense change that will help prevent tragedies.

It also creates a new driver’s license for the most persistent offenders that will prevent them from purchasing alcohol for ten years.

The legislation also dedicates funds to support highly-effective DUI emphasis patrols. Counties often lack the resources they need to prosecute repeat offenders. These changes will give them the funds they need to get the job done.

 “As a critical care nurse, I’ve had to ask the family of a 12-year-old if they wanted their child to be an organ donor,” said Rep. Morrell. “Once you’ve done that, you are resolved to prevent more carnage on our roads and more funerals for little boys and girls who’ll never go to prom, never get their diploma, and never bring their own sons and daughters home for Christmas to their grandparents. This bill will save lives.”

The leaders were joined by Frank and Carol Blair of Puyallup. Three years ago, their daughter Sheena was killed by a drunk driver. Carol and Frank have dedicated their lives to preventing another family from experiencing the same heartbreak.

“Victims of drunk drivers don’t get a second chance at life, so it’s time we stop giving the drunk drivers a second chance,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), chair of the House Public Safety Committee. “Governor Inslee has proposed strong new measures and although we only have a short time before the session ends I know we have the political will to pass these important reforms into law.”

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Read this story in Spanish.

Capitol Ideas podcast: Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller

Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) is Speaker Pro Tem of the Washington State House of Representatives.

In a new Capitol Ideas interview, he takes listeners onto the podium in the House chamber for a behind the scenes look at the role debate plays in a modern representative democracy.

He also tells how he balances his leadership role with his duties as a state representative from Washington's 49th district.

Read this story in Spanish.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Justice at last for those wrongfully convicted

The third time was the charm for Rep. Tina Orwall’s measure to compensate the wrongfully convicted in our state now that the Senate passed HB 1341 unanimously this evening. 

It’s been a long and winding road for this legislation. When Orwall first introduced it in 2011, it didn’t even get a hearing. The 2012 attempt was passed out of Judiciary, but was not scheduled for a hearing in Ways and Means. This time around, however, after numerous hurdles and some tweaking in the Senate, it’ll be on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk as soon as the House agrees to the changes, which modified the bill to allow structured settlement awards and establishes that claimants must waive any other compensation under state or federal law. 

Orwall’s measure will provide a wrongfully convicted person with:

  • $50,000 for each year behind bars
  • Additional $50,000 for each year on death row
  • $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody or as a registered sex offender
  • Compensation for child support
  • Reimbursement for restitution, assessments fees and court costs associated with the wrongful conviction
  • Attorneys’ fees up to $75,000
  • Higher education tuition waivers
  • Access to reentry services
 Read this story in Spanish.

There's (not) an app for that -- yet

The Washington State Legislature has an award-winning web site. All four corners boast web sites (you're visiting one right now), as do executive offices from the governor on down. If you want to find out something about state government -- how's that bill doing, what's this or that agency's latest initiative, where's the governor speaking next Thursday, or why are flags at half-mast outside government buildings -- you can sit at your computer and get your answer with a few keystrokes. We're a wired state government.

That only makes sense: With better than 85 percent of Washingtonians hooked up to the Internet, at home or at their business or, most often, both, we're well into the top 10 states for Internet penetration. We're a wired state.

Increasingly, however, we're also becoming un-wired. Mobile devices are changing the way people connect. Unfortunately, many of those great government web sites haven't adapted to this new reality and it shows.

This might not be such a problem were it not for two interesting pieces of data.

Last year, smartphones topped the 50-percent mark among U.S. cellphone users. For the first time, more than half the people you see carrying cellphones – and that's essentially everyone you see – are walking around with extremely sophisticated and capable hand-held computers that can also be used, in a pinch, as a telephone.

Second, and here's where the headline of this post becomes relevant, more of those smartphone owners (54.2 percent) used them to access apps than to access an Internet browser (52.1 percent) last year.

If there's an app for almost everything, what's missing? Conspicuously, most state-level legislative bodies. The Obama White House has a great app, the U.S. House has one, the Senate Republican Conference has one, and several U.S. representatives and senators have individual apps. Below that . . . crickets. As of last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures was aware of just seven legislative apps:

Alaska Legislature
Florida House
New York Senate
North Carolina General Assembly
Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee
Utah Watch Bills
Puerto Rico Senate


Why? Various reasons, starting with cost. It takes serious skills to create a worthwhile, attractive, user-friendly interactive app, and those skills don't come cheap. Just the initial coding can run upwards of $15,000 for a relatively simple app, and the best ones, while appearing to be simple, aren't. Few legislatures have people on staff with the expertise to build an app, and in the midst of a recession, no one wants to be accused of unnecessary spending of public resources. 

Apps qualify as new territory – for us. But for the estimated 114 million Americans who use smartphones (not to mention 70 million tablets, and that stat is almost a year old), apps aren't new. They're expected, and more and more, they're preferable to traditional web sites.

Every legislature will have an iPhone and Adroid app sooner or later, and probably a Windows Phone app as well. Every caucus within those legislatures will have their app. The only question yet to be decided is, who'll get there the quickest, with the best product?

Hilarity in the House

It isn't all policy wonkery and political hardball in the House; sometimes, there's a bit of legislative levity, too. And each year, TVW nominates mirthful moments from its video coverage for the awards it calls "Cammies" -- a blend of "cameras" and "Emmys" -- and puts them to a vote by the attendees at its annual gala.

Two of the side-splitting solons honored with Cammies this year are House Democrats Ross Hunter of Medina and Steve Kirby of Tacoma: Hunter in the category of "The Grinding Gears of Government"  and Kirby in "Collegial Comity."

Check out Hunter's riff on color-coding in the Appropriations Committee and Kirby's transgressive remarks about the other chamber on the House floor.





Read this story in Spanish.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Keeping kids in school is in everyone's best interest

Dropouts come in all ages. Sure, we know that as many as 20 out of every hundred schoolkids will never make it to commencement. But did you know that some youngsters, for all practical purposes, are actually "dropping out" of school emotionally in the first, maybe the second grade?

House Education Committee members this year have examined the dropout quandary at length, tackling it from a variety of real-world perspectives. Those testifying in committee meetings offered a number of observations, including the above-noted assertion that many of our very youngest students are checking out emotionally in their first years of school.
 
Hammered home time and again were the sad facts that dropouts tend to:

· Make up a big percentage of the ranks of the unemployed.

· Take home meager wages when they do work.

· All too often tumble into the criminal-justice system.

Consider also the fact that just as today's Washington businesses cry out for more and more skilled workers, dropouts are in no position to acquire the specific training and academic chops needed for 21st-century jobs.

Education Committee member state Rep. Kathy Haigh is the prime-sponsor of House Bill 1424, which is aimed at "enhancing the statewide K-12 dropout prevention, intervention, and re-engagement system." The measure cleared the House, 88-10, a month ago. Unfortunately, the legislation is stymied in the Senate and likely going nowhere near the governor's desk this year.

That is very unfortunate news, especially given the Washington State School Directors' Association (WSSDA) issued a summary recently of the big steps many districts have taken to keep young men and women in school. Their e-newsletter reviews the high level of success some of these intervention and prevention programs have worked in diverse districts around the state. The Sunnyside School District in the lower Yakima Valley, for instance, lifted its graduation rate an incredible 38 points in a recent five-year period -- from 41 percent in 2007 to 79 percent in 2012. The Spokane Public Schools worked to push on-time graduation up from a rate just above 62 percent in 2008-2009 to way more than 76 percent in 2010-2011.

Read this story in Spanish.

Putting $$$ where our mouth is on mental health

Earlier this week, House Democrats released a proposed operating budget. There are a lot of highlights – our proposal is the high-water mark on education funding, saves the safety net, and goes all in on Obamacare.

What may have been missed in all the hoopla was the important investments our budget makes in mental health care. Our budget pays for improvements to ensure the mentally ill get the care they need and make Washington a safer place.
  • House Bill 1114: Introduced by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, fills the gap between the criminal justice system and mental health care providers. It ensures that violent mental health offenders get the treatment they need, instead of ending up on the streets.
  •  
  • House Bill 1336: A Rep. Tina Orwall measure that requires school counselors and nurses to receive training on suicide prevention – giving these professionals the tools to identify early warning signs of troubled youth and prevent tragedies. 
  •  
  • House Bill 1777: Rep. Tami Green’s bill will accelerate the implementation of critical involuntary commitment of people with pressing mental health issues. The new approach will take input from family members and friends into consideration when making a decision to involuntarily commit. We pay for this change two years ahead of schedule. 
  •  
  • House Bill 1522: Another Green bill, HB 1522 builds a bridge between hospitals and the community for the mentally ill. It creates a step down from state hospitals – which will provide an important service to folks beginning to transition back into day-to-day life. This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the cost-effective approach.
  •  
  • House Bill 1627: A Rep. Dawn Morrell bill to give county jails the tools they need to meet the growing demand for competency evaluations. Our county jails aren’t mental health care providers and, without adequate care, the mentally ill deteriorate rapidly in jail.
We’ve seen the tragedies that can occur when the mentally ill don’t get treatment they need. House Democrats believe mental health care is a critical investment – it’s just one of many priorities we will be fighting for in coming weeks.

Photo: Members of the House Health Care Committee discuss budget priorities.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When was the last time you exercised with Walkman?

The Judicial Information System (JIS) is the primary information system for Washington state courts and the network that connects the courts with law enforcement agencies.

Sony Walkman (1979)
The JIS was state-of-the-art when it was created 35 years ago. What was also considered state-of-the-art in 1978? The Walkman. Our state's main judicial system is running on the efficiency and reliability of Walkman-era technology.

JIS is failing. Today, this behemoth wastes incredible amounts of time and money – and worse, it's unreliable. The system is expensive to maintain and faces the possibility of catastrophic failure.

Courts, like businesses, are urged to do more with less and use technology to work more efficiently and productively. How are the courts supposed to administer justice with a system like this?

A serious problem with JIS is that it doesn't relay to law enforcement when defendants are convicted of felonies. This has placed domestic violence victims in danger and can allow criminals to keep firearms. How can police be expected to protect us if they do not have accurate information on criminals?

Screenshot of the computer system used in Washington courtrooms.

If we want a justice system that functions and uses taxpayer resources effectively, then replacing these ancient systems is critical. The courts need $20 million to run the computer system and begin replacement.

The Senate Republican budget sweeps the entire $20 million for the JIS database and the replacement of the Superior Court Management Information System (SCOMIS).

It doesn't have to be this way. The House budget proposal fully funds the JIS and the replacement of the SCOMIS system. With this investment, we can greatly improve the accuracy and efficiency of our justice system. We can give judges, attorneys, and law enforcement the tools they need to protect us. And, we can save the taxpayers time and money.

Photo courtesy of the Administrative Office of the Courts and Wikipedia

Yesterday was CRC Project day at the Capitol

Sen. Annette Cleveland & Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie
at the Columbia River Crossing Information Exhibit
Many lawmakers in both chambers, as well as the general public got a chance to get a better understanding of the Columbia River Crossing Project yesterday at the CRC Information Exhibit in the Columbia Room. The Columbia River Crossing Coalition organized the event and brought pictures, brochures, and CRC engineers to answer questions and provide information.

The section of I-5 just north and south of the Columbia River has major safety and congestion problems that, experts say, will only worsen unless something is done pronto. The solution put forth after ten years of considering other options is the Columbia River Crossing Project, which, according to its proponents, will reduce crashes, provide predictable travel times, add travel choices, prevent traffic backups, and benefit the economies of Oregon and Washington.

The CRC project could begin creating thousands of much needed jobs on both sides of the river as early as next year if the funding is secured. Oregon has already committed to its share ($450 million) in order for the CRC Project to get $850 million in federal dollars; if Washington doesn't do its part, those federal funds will go to other states.

Secretary of Transportation, Raymond H. "Ray" LaHood, who a year ago said that the CRC is a great project anyway you can describe it, and Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff were also in Olympia yesterday. They met with House and Senate Transportation chairs and with Southwest Washington legislators to talk about the regional and national importance of the CRC project. The Columbian ran this story shortly after the meeting.

For more information on the CRC Project, please visit the CRC Website.

You can also get the handouts from the 49th Legislative District CRC Town Hall hosted by Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie and Sen. Annette Cleveland on March 16 here.

Read the Columbia River Crossing "Factbook" released last week.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

House doubles up on education

House Democrats unveiled a state budget that funds education without shredding the safety net for
kids, seniors, the blind, and disabled – and without resorting to accounting tricks or one-time spending.

Education

The budget set the high-water mark for education spending, adding $1.3 billion over predicted spending on public schools. If you compared total education spending to the current budget, the House proposal spends $1.9 billion more than the status quo.

Gov. Jay Inslee proposed putting $1.2 billion more toward education, while Senate Republican budget writers put forth a budget that adds only $760 million to meet our McCleary obligations.

The House proposal also:
  • Invests in early learning
  • Reduces class sizes in K-3
  • Puts more money into high-demand college degrees
  • Expands health care and protects the safety net

The House proposal fully embraces the savings and opportunities offered by Obamacare. The budget:
  • Offers affordable health coverage to 385,000 more people by expanding Medicaid
  • Helps small business with costs by implementing the health care exchange, giving business owners and employees affordable and portable options for health coverage
Tax reform and tax fairness

A citizens' commission, panel of experts, and the House Finance Committee all examined the massive number of tax breaks, exemptions, and loopholes. Hundreds of breaks and loopholes costs the taxpayers $24 billion, compared to the entire two-year state budget proposal of $34 billion.

Many of these breaks have been on the books since the 1930s. Do they still make sense? Do they actually create jobs?

The House proposes a series of reforms to shift tax dollars from loopholes that don't create jobs to funding education, which we know is the foundation of our modern economy.

The $1.3 billion in loopholes and revenue match up with the $1.3 billion invested in new education spending aimed at meeting our constitutional duty under the Supreme Court's McCleary decision.

To find out more about the our budget proposal, click here.

Read this story in Spanish.

House budget will be released today

House Appropriations Chair Ross Hunter
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, Appropriations Committee Chair Ross Hunter, and Finance Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle will release the House 2013-15 operating budget proposal at 12:15 today in House Hearing Room A.

TVW will cover their press conference live, and documents will be made public at the same time.

Check back here later for more details.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

House transportation budget passes committee


​Yesterday, with a bipartisan 20-10 vote, the House Transportation Committee passed their budget that was rolled out late last week.
The $8.4 billion budget allocates $4.9 billion for existing capital projects, and $3.5 billion for operating programs. The sum represents a decline of about $1.4 billion from the previous biennial transportation budget, primarily due to declining revenue from the state’s gas tax.
Some highlights include: stabilizing the Washington State Patrol, Washington Ferry System, and Department of Transportation budgets; funding the continued construction of the SR 99 Tunnel, 520 floating bridge, I-90 improvements and North Spokane Corridor expansion; and implementing efficiencies to make transportation dollars go further. A full summary is available here.
House Democrats acknowledge that this budget is only a stopgap measure to fund our transportation system for the next two years. Both Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn and Vice-Chair Marko Liias
pointed out that additional revenue will be necessary before the next biennial budget in order to prevent gridlock and agency shortfalls.
The budget, House Bill 1864, will go to the Rules Committee and then proceed to the floor of the House for a vote by the full chamber. The Senate has released their own version, but the differences are small and are expected to be resolved when the two bodies conference.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tax loopholes: Did you know...


Washington State gives the oil industry about $3 million a year through a tax loophole based on how gasoline was transported back in the 1930’s. It’s completely outdated and even they have admitted they don’t want or need the exemption anymore.

Fifteen years ago, the Legislature tried to entice out-of-state prescription drug companies to build warehouses in Washington by giving them a tax break. The plan didn’t work out as originally intended. Out-of-state companies are getting the tax break even if they don’t have warehouses in Washington. In other words, we’re giving away $15 million in tax loopholes for no reason.

Washington State gives away $32 million a year to public utilities through a 1935 tax loophole. This exemption was created to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has since been overturned.

When you travel to another state, you help support their schools and other needs when you buy goods and pay their sales tax. How much do out-of-state residents pay in sales tax when they buy items in Washington? ZERO. That tax loophole costs Washington taxpayers $32 million a year.

These are just a few examples of the 640 tax loopholes our state hands out to businesses each year. According to the Washington Budget & Policy Center, these tax loopholes cost Washington taxpayers over $10 BILLION per biennium – that’s about one-third of the total state budget.

Last week, the Senate unveiled a budget proposal that added 15 new tax loopholes to the books, which will cost taxpayers over $11 million. How many did they eliminate? ZERO.

Tax breaks themselves are not inherently bad things. Many serve the people well. But there are also several tax loopholes, like the 1939 fuel spillage loophole, that are outdated and unneeded. Because most do not have expiration dates, they’ll remain on the books unless the Legislature repeals them.

Budgeting is all about priorities. By preserving unneeded tax breaks, the Senate budget prioritizes corporate profits over kids and working families. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better.

House Democrats will unveil our budget proposal on Wednesday. In our proposal, you will see kids and working families come first.

Check out our website for a Top 10 list of reasons why the Senate budget is bad for kids, middle class families, and our future.



Read this story in Spanish.

Guns and restraining orders don’t mix, says House bill that advances in Senate

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Two House bills that tighten critical areas of firearms regulation quietly moved another step closer to final Legislative approval this week when they cleared a Senate committee.

House Bill 1840 would prohibit possession of a gun by anyone subject to certain restraining orders, no-contact orders or protection orders if a judge finds that the subject of the order poses a threat to an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner. Those who fall under the finding and already have guns would be required to surrender them to police.

The Senate committee added the requirement for both an order and a court finding of a threat to the version of the bill that earlier passed the House 61-37. The House-passed version would trigger the gun prohibition in the case of either an order or a finding of a threat.

A recent New York Times article looked at how states nationwide deal with gun rights and restraining orders.

If the amended bill is approved by the full Senate, it would return to the House, which could either accept the Senate change or negotiate a version acceptable to both chambers.

The Senate committee also approved House Bill 1612 which sets up a statewide data base to log felony firearms offenders. The data base is designed to aid law-enforcement officers and would not be available for public viewing. It earlier passed the House 85-10.

Prevent drunk driving -- save lives




Lately, our local news has been full of disasters involving drunk drivers. In just one week, two grandparents were killed and their daughter-in-law and grandchild gravely injured when they were struck by a truck, and a mother was killed on her way to work by a car heading in the wrong direction on SR 520.
 
The drivers responsible for these incidents are both accused of being drunk at the time – and both had prior arrests for impaired driving on their records.

In response to these tragedies, Rep. Roger Goodman, founder and chair of the Washington Impaired Driving Working Group, is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday, April 9th. There, lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and judges will discuss smart solutions to stop impaired drivers.

Some policies up for discussion will certainly be:

·Sobriety checkpoints.
·Decreasing the number of impaired driving offenses before someone is charged with  a felony DUI from 5 to 3.
·Immediate arrest and jail time after offense.
·Mandatory impoundment and installation of an Ignition Interlock Device upon arrest.
·Spike strips on freeway on-ramps to prevent cars from driving the wrong way.
·Better enforcement for our current DUI laws through increased funding for the State’s Target Zero Plan.

Washington state is a national leader in effective DUI Prevention legislation. Since 2006, we have reduced deaths and injuries on our roadways by 34 percent.
 
But we clearly must do more. Regardless of what happens at tomorrow’s meeting, it is certain that our legislators will continue to push forward with smarter laws to prevent Impaired Driving and save lives in Washington state.

Read this story in Spanish.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Women of the House say Senate GOP budget chooses loopholes over families

They are mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters. They're nurses, educators, and community activists. The women of the House Democratic caucus come from different backgrounds and different towns, but today they all shared one message: The Senate Republican budget proposal prioritizes special interest tax loopholes over our children and most vulnerable people.

Representatives Eileen Cody, Tami Green, Ruth Kagi, Laurie Jinkins, and Dawn Morrell led a group of women legislators calling out the problems for families in the Senate's plan. 

They pointed out that, instead of closing a single tax loophole -- many of which have been on the books for decades without any review -- the Senate actually includes 25 more loopholes.

Cuts in the budget plan include:

·  Childcare support for more than 4,500 families through Working Connections Childcare;

·  TANF Services – A temporary lifeline to struggling families used for the most basic of needs like rent assistance, school supplies and basic hygiene items;

·  Funding for career services and educational certification programs for the poor;

·  Required health care cost-sharing for low-income individuals, limiting access; 

·  Transitional housing services for seniors and reduced access to shelters for homeless families;

·  Corrections services, leading to early release of offenders;

·  Funding to home care services which keep seniors and the disabled from going into nursing homes;

·  Support for grandparents caring for their grandchildren, keeping them out of foster care; and

·  Legal services for low-income persons who need help to keep their homes.
 
Here is the full press release from today's event, and here are more comments about the budget plan.

Read this story in Spanish.

RIP RPA

Today nearly every insurance plan in Washington covers both maternity services and abortion services. However, the Affordable Care Act could inadvertently limit these reproductive choices by requiring additional administrative red-tape for abortion services. 

This change would interfere with a woman’s ability to make the best decisions for her family and her health.

Enter the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA) sponsored by House Health Care and Wellness Committee Chair Rep. Eileen Cody and 40 other co-sponsors. It would require insurance companies to continue their current policy of covering a full range of reproductive choice. The bill ensures fairness and protects freedom in a woman’s health care decisions. 

It passed the House back in February, and received a hearing in the Senate Health Care Committee on April 1st. At that hearing, Senator Steve Hobbs presented a letter signed by 25 senators who support the RPA – the majority needed to pass.

However, it appears the bill won’t be heading to Governor Inslee’s desk this year. The bill did not come up for a vote in committee ahead of Wednesday’s policy cutoff deadline.

Washington voters have a long history of supporting reproductive rights that stretches back over 40 years. Two years before Roe v. Wade, Washingtonians approved Referendum 20, which legalized abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

Then again in 1991, when it looked like Roe could be overturned, voters approved Initiative 120, which protected a women’s right to make a private choice with her doctor regardless of what occurred at the federal level.

The Seattle Times, editorializing in favor of the RPA, summed it up perfectly:

A woman’s decision to become a mother shouldn’t be determined by a lack of resources or insurance. 

It’s a deeply personal choice between a patient and her doctor. Washington state has a history of respecting that right and should continue to protect it.

Refusing to let the RPA come up for a vote in the Senate is a defeat for women and privacy in Washington. This decision doesn’t reflect our state’s values.

You can find more information on the RPA here. You can also read some of the national attention the RPA and House Democrats have received over at the New York Times, Salon and Jezebel.

Read this story in Spanish.

To hedge or not to hedge

That is one question.

Another question is, "What is hedging?"

In this case, it has nothing to do with that overgrown evergreen out in the yard.  According to this recent AP story in a Vancouver newspaper, utility hedging is a practice used by natural gas companies that has cost Washington ratepayers $800 million over five years.

"The Washington State Attorney General's Office said it wants the WashingtonState Utilities & Transportation Commission (UTC) to continue investigating the hedging strategies used by utilities," says the newspaper article, "in which the companies purchase gas futures in order to protect against sudden price increases."

In fact, Lisa W. Gafken, an assistant attorney general, is asking that the UTC slap a moratorium on any new hedging. Gafken points out that utilities don't have any genuine motivation to do a better job making their investments as long as they can simply pass the costs on to -- you guessed it -- the ratepayers.

Gafken says that her office "is concerned that customers have been harmed by the companies’ hedging practices. Even recognizing that hedging can be an appropriate natural gas purchasing tool, the dramatic size of these losses highlights the need for more rigorous regulatory review.”

The utilities engage in hedging for reasons plenty sound and logical -- they want to sidestep future fluctuations in the cost of gas. When it works out, then great; everyone's a winner. When it doesn't work out so nicely, well, that's why it's called "hedging" -- not "sure-thinging."


Companies involved in this utility hedging in question are:

  • Puget Sound Energy, Inc. -- approximately 761,000 customers in western Washington.
  • Avista Utilities -- approximately 149,000 customers in eastern Washington.
  • Cascade Natural Gas Company -- approximately 197,000 customers in western and south-central Washington.
  • Northwest Natural Gas -- approximately 68,000 customers in southwest Washington.
The commission is holding a public meeting today that will include a discussion of the matter. The meeting will start at 1:30 that afternoon in the UTC hearing room at 1300 S. Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia. To participate by telephone, please call the commission at 360-664-1234 prior to the meeting to make conference-line arrangements.



Thursday, April 4, 2013

Standing guard for Fort Democracy

Time and again, the adage "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" has been offered up down through these 22 decades-plus of our American existence. Thomas Jefferson (perhaps) and numerous others (for sure) have wielded that faithful maxim likely first advanced by Irish orator John Philpot Curran some 223 years ago.

A big part of that eternal vigilance here in Washington? Keeping a watchful eye on our voting process.
 
Today, sentry duty at Fort Democracy in the Evergreen State comes in the form of the Election Administration and Certification Board, a panel to which state Rep. Sam Hunt was just recently reappointed by House Speaker Frank Chopp.
 
Hunt chairs the House Government Operations & Elections Committee. For many years, he's championed government efficiency, including safeguards in the electoral process.

In addition to Hunt and other legislators, the Election Administration and Certification Board features folks from the Secretary of State's office, and people representing county auditors and the major political parties.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ross Hunter comments on the Senate Republican budget proposal


The Senate Republicans released their 2013-15 budget proposal today, and House Appropriations Committee Ross Hunter issued the following statement in response:
“While it is nice that the Senate Republicans have acknowledged our responsibility to fund the McCleary decision, they have done so with a budget proposal that relies on assumptions that are unconstitutional or unsustainable. The Supreme Court has been pretty cranky about this issue, and this budget will do nothing to improve their mood.

“In addition to being unsustainable, some of their decisions seem downright cruel. Providing child care subsidies for parents trying to get back into the workforce was part of the deal when we “reinvented welfare” two decades ago.  Cutting it now will not only force single moms back onto welfare, it will perpetuate the opportunity gap in our schools for years to come.

“I am also very concerned with some of the shaky assumptions made in the proposal.  There are $157 million in unnamed efficiencies, $40 million in an uncollectable use tax, and $166 million in a school trust transfer that is clearly unconstitutional.

“We have spent the last five years making our budget more sustainable with actions like reducing our long-term pension obligations and cutting staffing at all levels.  A budget built on unconstitutional actions and assumptions that are unlikely to come true moves us away from sustainability.”

Read this story in Spanish.

Good news: personal income jumps in state. Not-as-good news: Help for state budget diminishing

The total personal income for everybody in the state of Washington added together rose by 4.5% from 2011 to 2012, the fourth-highest percentage increase among the states, the federal government says.

So a lot of folks saw their income go up last year, which is certainly good news.

And you might think that would also be good news for the hard-pressed state budget, since a bit of those increased earnings might be spent on stuff that's covered by the state sales tax.

Turns out it's not such a budgetary boon. Why? Because over the last 20-odd years, state government has tapped an ever-declining share of that personal income to pay for education, the State Patrol, bridges and highways, foster care and all the other services the state provides.

Part of the reason for that is that the Legislature is very reluctant to raise taxes.

Another part of the reason is our revenue system – which, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, is the most regressive of any state's ("most regressive" means that in Washington, the rich pay less and the poor pay more than anywhere else, in terms of their shares of the total tax burden).


All of that makes balancing the state budget a tough job. That's the main task before the state House and Senate right now, and we will see their ideas for how to do it announced soon.

Apture