Friday, January 25, 2013

Easing the transition for our troops, veterans, and their families

​They put their civilian life on hold, standing ready if need be to put their very lives on the line.

So back here on the home front, military men and women have a right to fair and functional opportunities in transitioning to peacetime.
The very timely issue of “counting military training for college credit and professional-licensing requirements” was discussed in a meeting of the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. John McCoy, earlier this week. McCoy is sponsoring a measure in the 2013 legislative session to strengthen protections for the parental rights of deployed military dads and moms. He said that our state's "policies and procedures should provide assistance for military men and women in their transition to safe, high-quality civilian lives and careers."

House Democrats two years ago championed successful legislation to make sure that military training and experience counts toward licensing-requirements in a wide array of professions. The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs provides a great deal of employment assistance. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Defense and the commander in chief is also emphasizing employment-programs for veterans.

So far this year, a pair of other proposals to help support our servicemen and women are working their way through the legislative process. One bill would send financial help to veterans and active members of the military who are pursuing a higher education. A second bill would direct targeted colleges and universities to set up early-course registration for veterans and National Guard members. Both bills are in the House Higher Education Committee: HB 1011 is set for a vote in the 8 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 29, committee meeting, and HB 1109 is set for a vote in the 10 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 31, committee meeting.

Read this story in Spanish here.

With 58 programs so far, STEM is proving successful

Did you know Washington ranks fourth in the nation in technology-based corporations, but 46th in participation in science and engineering graduate degree programs?
Rep. Tina Orwall said that this disparity has to be fixed because those large employers need high-skilled workers and, if our state can’t provide them, they are bringing them from out of state. She stressed that these are Washington companies so those good-paying jobs should go to Washington workers.
That's why in 2010 she sponsored, and the Legislature unanimously passed, House Bill 2621 directing OSPI to designate six "lighthouse" schools each year to promote and develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, including technical assistance and advice for other elementary, middle and high schools that are creating their own STEM environments.
In the 22 months since the law went into effect, 24,000 students and 800 teachers have participated in 58 STEM programs across Washington.
Rep. Tina Orwall
This week, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction announced the schools that will receive STEM funding in 2013:
  • Delta High School (Kennewick)
  • Bremerton High School (Bremerton)
  • Stevens Elementary School (Aberdeen)
  • West Valley Junior High School (West Valley Yakima)
  • West Hills STEM Academy (Bremerton)
  • WF West High School (Chehalis)
  • San Juan School District
Read the OSPI press release here.
Learn more about Washington STEM here.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act introduced

Warning: This couch may contain chemicals harmful to your health
Why is a toxic chemical that was removed from children's pajamas back in the 1970's still used today in common children's and household products?

Legislators are moving forward this session with a proposal to get this chemical, called chlorinated Tris, banned once and for all here in Washington.

Bills have now been introduced in both the House and the Senate, called the "Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act." A similar measure passed the House last year, but didn't make it into law. This joint press release from Rep. Kevin Van De Wege and Sen. Sharon Nelson describes how this year's proposal is different, and why now is the right time to protect consumers - especially children - from these harmful chemicals.

But why is something we stopped putting in pajamas over 30 years ago still showing up in everything from couches to strollers?

Supposedly for fire safety reasons. Chlorinated Tris has long been touted as a flame retardant to help keep consumers safe. But a recent Chicago Tribune investigative series uncovered deception behind these claims. And with safer alternatives available, this might be the year the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act gets all the way through the legislature.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Classic win-win: Bill boosts 'back-to-school' sales-tax holiday

​Sometimes, everyone's a winner.

Case-in-point: State Rep. Jim Moeller's House Bill 1329 would set up a "back-to-school" sales-tax holiday for a few days every summer right before classes kick off. Moeller's idea is to relieve folks from having to pay the state sales tax on school items they buy on the second Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in August. The bill would exempt, for that big school-shopping weekend, clothing items under $100 and school-supplies under $10.

Moeller points out that at least a dozen other states provide their citizens and businesses a break from their sales tax for a couple of days a year. He said he's met with small businesses and other retailers, as well as city and county officials to develop his bi-partisan legislation.

Calling it a "people's tax break," Moeller says it's an especially appropriate idea for border counties. Businesses in Clark County, where Moeller's district is located, lose millions of dollars a year in revenue to their Oregon competitors.

The measure now awaits a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

Read this story in Spanish here.

When it comes to taxes, we’re one of the best and one of the worst

On the one hand, the Tax Foundation consistently says that Washington has one of the top ten best business tax climates. We rank sixth in their 2013 index. But the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy's most recent "Who Pays?" report says Washington is the state with the most regressive tax system.
So who's right?
They both are. One of the reasons the Tax Foundation has Washington in a privileged spot is because we don't have a state income tax.
And what makes our state's tax system uber-regressive is best explained in a brand new study prepared by the Office of Financial Management, where we found that:
The state's poorest 20 percent pay 9 percent of their personal incomes in state and local taxes, while the richest 20 percent pay just 2 percent. You read correctly, the reality in our state is that the poor pay 4.5 times as much, percentage-wise.
This Crosscut story has more information on how poor folks are stuck with a larger chunk of the bill.
The OFM study was presented to the House Finance Committee on Monday. Click this TVW link to watch it online.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

State of the Judiciary at 11:30 today

House members will head over to the Senate chambers this morning to for a joint session, during which they will hear a "State of the Judiciary" address by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.

Chief Justice Madsen is the second woman in our state's history to preside over the state supreme court.

You can watch the address on TVW.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Meet the new member: Marcus Riccelli

Rep. Riccelli (r) with his seatmate, Rep. Timm Ormsby.
We're featuring posts about the nine new members who joined the HDC this year, and next up is Rep. Marcus Riccelli of the 3rd Legislative District.
Rep. Riccelli was born and raised in Spokane, so he considers it a great honor to now be representing that very city in our state capitol. He's a graduate of Mead High School and Gonzaga University, but eventually ventured over to the western part of the state to get his Master of Public Administration at the University of Washington.
For the past two regular and five special legislative sessions, Rep. Riccelli worked as the Senior Policy Advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. Having been a legislative staff person prior to his election, he has a great deal of appreciation for the long hours required of staff, particularly during the legislative session.
We caught up with him at the end of his first week as a state representative to ask him a few questions:
Q: Is there a moment, or an image, you’ll remember most from your first day as a lawmaker?
A: When my mother came on the floor of the House and looked at my desk and nameplate with immense pride in her son. My parents were always there for me and sacrificed a lot so I could follow my dreams. The other moment was when my two-and-a-half-year-old son noticed me on the floor of the House the first time from the public galleries and waved and yelled, "Dadda!"
Q: What inspired you to run for office?
A: The Jesuit education at Gonzaga really changed my way of thinking and inspired me to answer the call to service. I was very much inspired by working for two of Washington’s great leaders: U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and former state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who is also from Spokane. Finally, my son Brayden deeply inspired me. As newer parents, my wife and I want him and his generation not just to have the same opportunities we have had, we want him to have even more opportunities…and right in Spokane if he chooses.
Q: If you could be any West Wing character, who would it be?
A: A lot of people have actually told me I remind them of Josh Lyman. I had the opportunity to meet the actor, Bradley Whitford, in 2002, which was a very fun experience. I surprised him by not asking about his role in the West Wing but in Revenge of the Nerds 2, which made him crack up.

Q: Imagine being governor for a day, and able to pass any legislation. What problem would you fix?
A: Nobody should go hungry. Ever. My heart breaks especially for children and our seniors who go without.
In case you missed it, check out our featured posts on new Reps. Jessyn Farrell, Steve Bergquist, and Gael Tarleton.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Globalization: Washington cows, Italian food, Korean customers

Moo:  Washington's dairy exports are increasing
Although it ranks 10th in the United States in milk production, Washington exports more dairy products than any other state except California. A big part of the reason? The appetite in Korea for pizza, with oodles of cheese topping.

That’s the story reported by the Tri-City Herald, which notes that state dairy exports increased by 35 percent in the last few years to attain an annual total of $461 million in 2011. Much of the demand comes from Japan, China, Korea and Southeast Asia, which suggests a growing taste for milk and cheese in cultures in which those foods are not traditionally a major part of the diet. With its Pacific ports, Washington is well positioned to satisfy the growing market.

The heart of Washington dairy country is the Yakima Valley, one of the largest-producing areas in the nation.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Rep. Pettigrew tours South Seattle schools

During the 2012 session, the Legislature allocated funds in support of creative and innovative programs designed to boost student achievement in a handful of struggling schools in South Seattle. On Friday, January 11th Rep. Pettigrew took some time out of his schedule to check-in on two of the schools that received funding and to see how they’re putting the dollars to work in the classroom.
First up was Rainier Beach High School. RBHS is using the dollars in a wide-variety of ways- from collaborative planning to professional development to parent engagement. 
Rep. Pettigrew (r) and RBHS Principal Dwane Chappelle visit an algebra class
They’ve implemented a staff-wide collaborative planning program that fosters structure and teamwork among educators. RBHS also partnered with the National Training Network for both professional development and to provide extra assistance to students struggling with math.
Understanding that the classroom can’t alone provide the necessary support to a student, they’ve hired a social worker and a family outreach and engagement coordinator. Among the family outreach and engagement coordinator’s job description- making “sunshine calls” to parents to share good news about their students when it’s merited.
After RBHS, Rep. Pettigrew traveled a few miles up the road to Aki Kurose Middle School. Aki Kurose is also using the dollars to focus on closing the achievement gap at the 97% minority middle school.
Rep. Pettigrew (r) and Aki Kurose Principal Mia Williams (l) chat with a City Year Corp member
Their efforts are focused on four critical areas: extra hands in the classroom, extending the academic day, professional development, and for improved technology and books.
Among the improvements- they’ve hired six extra people to increase classroom participation. The extra educators are tasked with re-teaching to target students, supporting the counseling department, and reading intervention. They are providing extra time to teachers so they can analyze student data and make necessary adjustments to the curriculum. They've also created a professional development calendar that provides training to staff on pertinent subjects.
Aki Kurose Principal Mia Williams also shared her data wall with Rep. Pettigrew. Two large charts hang in her office. The charts track each student’s progress on reading and math skills on a red-to-green scale. Often times, students begin the school year in the red and move to green as the school year goes on. The chart not only shows what students need attention, but the impressive progress that’s being made at Aki Kurose.
>Both schools have made efforts to ensure that the improvements made with these grant dollars are sustainable over the long-term.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Meet the new member: Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell on Opening Day
This year the HDC welcomed nine new members to the House of Representatives. In an effort to better acquaint our readers with the newest faces around town, last week we began rolling out a series of “Meet the New Member” posts.  New members Reps. Gael Tarleton and Steve Bergquist were featured last week.  Our next in the series is Representative Jessyn Farrell of the 46th legislative district.

Jessyn grew up in the Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood and Lake Forest Park, attending local public schools and the University of Washington. An attorney by trade with a focus on mediation, she worked on youth civic engagement with Seattle City Club before joining the HDC.

Jessyn is perhaps best known for her prior role as the executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition, where she brought together transit and road advocates in support of transportation initiatives that secured billions in transit funding. During her career she has worked for Pierce Transit, the Washington Public Interest Research Group, AmeriCorps, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Taking a moment to answer a few questions, here is what Jessyn had to say after her first week as a legislator:  

Q: Is there a moment, or an image, you’ll remember most from your first day as a lawmaker?

A: It’s one week in and I don’t really remember the first day! But something that has really stuck with me about the first few days is hearing the former governor referred to as “Her Excellency” and recalling the huge debates that our founders had about how to refer to President Washington.Adams wanted some pomp and circumstance and others accused him of being a royalist.I felt a strong connection to those men who set up our commitment to self-government over 200 years ago and how cool it was to be a part of that inspiring tradition!  

Q:What inspired you to run for office?  

A: I really believe we need more moms at the table – we make major policy decisions that affect working families and it’s important to have the perspective of those who are on the front lines of trying to make a living, take care of kids, and give them the very best. Now I get to actually try to be a working mother in this very intense, demanding environment. That alone will be a great challenge.  

Q: Imagine being governor for a day, and able to pass any legislation. What problem would you fix?  

A: Climate change – it is settled science that we are in a 13 year window – give or take a few years – to cut our carbon emissions drastically to ensure that we don’t completely wreck our climate (the threshold being keeping the earth’s global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius). The climate has already warmed and we are already seeing the effects of that with extreme weather events. But if warming goes beyond 2 degrees Celsius it is predicted that we will experience extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rises. This is very real to me as my kids won’t even be twenty by the time that window will have closed.

Q: If we peeked at your iPod, who would we see?  

A:The eensy weensy spider and other favorites of the 2-4 year old age group.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Honoring Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Today our nation honors and celebrates the life of one of the greatest civil rights leaders - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Civil Rights Movement brought an end to racial discrimination deeply embedded in many local, state, and federal laws. Policies that imposed poll taxes, prohibited interracial marriages, and allowed "separate but equal" schools and business were common throughout several parts of the country.

Dr. King helped lead a movement that tore down the wall of discrimination. But while the Civil Rights Movement brought an end to many racial injustices, several still remain.

These are just a few many inequities that continue to exist today - nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Our nation has come a long way since days when one person could legally own another as property. The progress towards equality has been slow, but leaders like Dr. King have helped accelerate the progress. While we pause today to remember his life and legacy, let's also remember his dream is not yet realized.

(Tune into TVW today to hear lawmakers from both chambers pay tribute to Dr. King.)

Read this story in Spanish here.