Thursday, January 31, 2013

Who’s behind the reform agenda?

Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush
(photo courtesy
Over the last several years, House Democrats have championed legislation to reform our public schools. The status quo wasn't working and changes were necessary.
Two of the biggest reforms were passed a few years ago- HB 2776 and HB 2261. These measures redefined "basic education" and provided a road map for fully funding basic education by the year 2018. Full compliance with these two measures will get us back on the right track with keeping our promise to fully fund our public schools- an opinion reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court in the McCleary decision.
We also haven't been shy to enact additional reforms to other parts of public education when problems emerged that needed fixing. We enacted a new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Program that will ensure a great teacher is in front of every student in every school. We adopted Common Core Standards that will ensure our students are learning what they need to know so they can be successful in life after high school.
But despite adopting these sweeping reforms, some lawmakers are looking to take our public schools in another direction.
An article from the Washington Post today may shine a little more light on that new direction and where those directives are coming from.

Here's an excerpt from the article:
A nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails today and said they show how a foundation begun by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and national education reform leader, is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.
A call to the foundation has not been returned.
The e-mails are between the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and a group Bush set up called Chiefs for Change, whose members are current and former state education commissioners who support Bush's agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can't read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests. That includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores.[...]
Washington state is not referenced in the Washington Post piece, although bills have been introduced in our Legislature that would hold back third-graders, make changes to our newly-reformed teacher/principal evaluation program, and give schools an A-F grade.

Read this story in Spanish.

Lawmakers tackle student debt

​On Tuesday, January 29th the House Higher Education committee, chaired by Representative Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), held a discussion and work session on higher education financial aid and student debt in the state of Washington.
In 2010, student debt made headlines for surpassing the debt on credit cards in the United States. More recently, it was revealed that the proportion of student loan balances that are in delinquency (unpaid for 90 days or more) surpassed that of credit-card balances for the first time.
As Rachel Sharp, Director of Student Financial Assistance with the Washington Student Achievement Council, made clear when she was presenting to the committee, Washington does a much better job at controlling student debt than the national average. State financial aid programs – such as the State Need Grant, State Work Study, and College Bound Scholarship – have done a good job of helping mitigate recent tuition increases.
Rep. Larry Seaquist
Members of the Higher Education Committee agreed that the growth in student debt is cause for concern, however, and that more needs to be done to improve higher education affordability and educate students about taking on debt. Their work session on Tuesday provided important information and a framework for moving forward as the legislative session progresses.
Here are some of the key facts that were presented to the committee:
  • Annual borrowing is increasing at public four year institutions, private four year institutions, and community and technical colleges
  • Private loans have actually decreased in recent years, despite overall borrowing going up
  • 56 percent of students graduate from four year institutions with debt
  • Despite this, Washington still ranks 39th in debt load after graduation, meaning our students have less debt than 38 other states
  • 1.7 billion in financial aid is provided annual to resident undergraduate students attending four year, community, and technical colleges
Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reproductive Parity Act gets public hearing tomorrow morning

Rep. Eileen Cody
While state legislatures across the country are turning back the clock on women’s health, Washington state and House Democrats are continuing to move forward as a leader in reproductive freedom.

Washington voters have a long history of supporting reproductive rights that stretches back over forty years. In fact, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court made their landmark decision in 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. I-120 protected a women’s right to make a private choice with her doctor in this state- no matter what occurred at the federal level.

Over twenty years later, nearly every single insurance plan in Washington covers both maternity services and abortion services. However, the Affordable Care Act could inadvertently limit these reproductive choices by denying coverage for terminating a pregnancy.

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

Understanding that this could be an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) has introduced the Reproductive Parity Act for the second year in a row. The House version of the bill has over 40 co-sponsors.

The Reproductive Parity Act would protect a woman’s right to make their own health care decisions by requiring insurance plans to offer full coverage for repoductive health, as they do under current law.

Curious about the legislation? Interested in the conversation? The House Health Care and Wellness Committee is holding a public hearing on the Reproductive Parity Act tomorrow at 8:00 AM.
As always, TVW will be covering all the action from the hearing. You can also follow us on Twitter for live updates.

Read this story in Spanish

People are talking: Good turnout so far for Pollet's 'Traveling Town Halls'

Rep. Gerry Pollet
State Rep. Gerry Pollet's Traveling Town Halls are proving to be a pretty decent ticket for folks who have something to get off their chest on Saturday mornings.
The46thLegislative District meetings stem from Pollet’s past experience organizing carpools of parents and others into a three-to-four-hour weekday excursion to Olympia -- for just a few minutes of face time with legislators. These Traveling Town Halls allow constituents to meet with Pollet most every Saturday morning from 10 to noon at various locations around the district, instead of trekking to Olympia.
Pollet has already welcomed three-dozen citizens to his first two meetings earlier this month: the premier 2013 get-together at the U-Village Burgermaster and his most recent constituent-conversation at the Lake Forest Park Town Center. Pollet's informal meetings -- you might even call them "Flash Town Halls" -- start at 10 most every Saturday morning. The next one is this Saturday, Feb. 2, at Diva Espresso, which is located at 8014 Lake City Way Northeast (between north 14th Avenue and north 15th Avenue). Pollet and Kenmore Mayor David Baker will hold a joint Traveling Town Hall on Saturday morning, Feb. 9, at Espresso Works, which is located at 6734 Northeast 181st Street in Kenmore.
"We’ve covered local issues, for sure," he said of the meetings so far, "such as the red-light-camera authority at the 'Five Corner' intersection of Sand Point Way Northeast and Northeast 45th Street. And we’ve engaged in spirited discussions on statewide issues, such as potential reforms in the revenue system, funding for education, and reducing gun-violence."
Pollet launched his traveling-office tradition last year, holding Saturday-morning meetings all over the 46th District during the 2012 legislative session. With the 2013 session now in full swing, he said he wants residents from 46th District neighborhoods to have an opportunity to speak their minds without having to travel to Olympia.
Folks can always find information on Pollet's in-district meetings -- as well as information about a wide variety of community, legislative, and state-government issues -- at his legislative website.

Granicus: Use your voice

Sharing your thoughts and suggestions on pending legislation just got a little easier.
The Legislature is testing a new online comment program for bills under consideration in the House and Senate. The tool is called Granicus.
With a handful of keystrokes and a few mouse clicks, Washington residents can share their opinions on specific bills being debated by the Legislature.
Residents can continue using the traditional methods- meet with their legislators, call their offices, send them emails, or call the toll-free Legislative Hotline (1-800-562-6000).
Your comments will only be visible to legislators and legislative staff. Granicus will ask for your home address so it can determine your legislative district. Your personal information will never be given to third parties for commercial purposes.
Give it a shot and let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How much is a legislator worth?

​No doubt there is a range of opinion on this question – all the way from “his/her weight in gold” to “not a plugged nickel.” But it turns out there is an official mechanism for determining the answer: the Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. And we’ll find out what they think Thursday, Jan. 31, at the end of the second of two public meetings on proposed salaries for the next two years. After getting feedback from the public at additional hearings, the commission will adopt its final plan in May.
The commission was created by a 1986 amendment to the state constitution, and is made up of sixteen unpaid citizens.  Nine commission members are chosen by a random drawing of registered voters.  The other seven are chosen by the leaders of the House and Senate based on areas of expertise. Every other year, the commission goes through a process for setting salaries for more than 450 elected officials, most of them judges. At the top right now is the governor, pulling down $166,891 a year. Legislators are paid $42,106 annually, with a few in leadership positions getting more. Salaries have been frozen since 2008.
The two public meetings this week are at The Phoenix Inn Suites, 415 Capitol Way N., Olympia, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Public testimony is invited.
You can read all about the process and learn lots of other stuff at the commission’s web site.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Blue sheets, The Hopper, NIMBY and astro-turf

You'll hear all kinds of jargon in the House and Senate that sounds strange at first. Here's some of the more interesting phrases and acronyms you might come across.

"Blue sheet this, then drop it in the Hopper" – A blue sheet is the paper lawmakers sign to co-sponsor a piece of legislation before it's officially introduced, or "dropped." You drop it into a box (the Hopper) at the Code Reviser's office.

Caucus – One of the most used words at the capitol. Caucus can mean group (noun) or to meet (verb). There are now five caucuses: the House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and now the Majority Coalition Caucus, made up of the Republicans plus two defecting Democrats. "Going to caucus" means meeting in a sub-group like that, though you also have committee caucuses. There are also more informal caucuses based on geography (the Coastal Caucus) or interests (the Education Caucus).

NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) – Refers to groups or citizens who argue against a thing coming to their backyard. They say sure, we need a new prison, landfill, factory or electricity plant to make society work – just build it somewhere else.

Exec – For some historic reason that nobody remembers, this is the term that means "vote on a bill in committee." Committees will have work sessions to learn about bills, public hearings to take testimony for and against, then executive sessions to actually debate and vote on bills.

Chief Clerk – While this sounds like the supervisor of the typing pool, it's actually the top administrative job in the House of Representatives and not the person you ask to make photocopies. The boss in the Senate has a similar title that's just as misleading: Secretary of the Senate is not really a secretary at all.

Second Reading – The time a bill can be amended during floor debate in the House.

RCW's – The Revised Code of Washington, which is just a fancy way of saying "state laws."

Third Reading and Final Passage – The final debate and vote on a bill in the House.

WAC's – The Washington Administrative Code, a fancy way of saying "regulations." State agencies will write WACs to implement state laws.

Astro-turf – A faux grass-roots movement that isn't coming from average citizens standing up and speaking out, but from a stakeholder group spending money to look like they have grass-roots support.

The Eighth Order of Business – A big deal in the House, where you make a procedural motion on the floor that opens the door to all sorts of possible shenanigans. If people say, "The House is going to the Eighth Order!" then there's probably some kind of procedural fight happening. 

Intent section – The introduction section of legislation where lawmakers try to spell out what they're trying to do and why. Judges do look at the intent section of laws, along with committee testimony and debate on the floor of the House and Senate, if there's some kind of controversy about what lawmakers intended to do. State agencies also look at the intent section when drafting WACs to make a law work.

Two quotes and a vote – A pretty standard story about a semi-important bill, where there's a quote from the pro side, a quote from the con side and the vote total in the House or Senate.

The Eleventh Order – This is nothing like going to the Eighth Order -- instead of causing a panic, telling people the House went to the Eleventh Order will cause celebration, because people who've been working until midnight can now go home. It means the House is done for the day and the Speaker Pro Tem will make a few announcements before adjourning.

Drank the Kool-Aid – A true believer of a political cause.

Two corner meeting – Leaders from the majority caucus in the House meeting with the majority leaders from the Senate.

Press houses – Two ancient buildings on the capitol campus, home of the reporters who cover the House, Senate and governor full time.

Three corner meeting – House and Senate leaders plus the governor.

Presser – Nickname for a press conference or other media event.

BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) – The next step in Nimbyism, where instead of saying "Build that somewhere else, as long as it's not near me," they say, "Build those things far, far away from any place humans live, preferably in the wilds of Idaho."

Four corner meeting – All four caucuses (House D's, House R's, Senate D's and Senate R's) without the governor.

Tick-tock – A news story told in chronological order.

Five corner meeting – All four of caucuses plus the governor.

Weekender – A long story a capitol press corps reporter writes for the Sunday papers.

NOPE (Not On Planet Earth) – Advocates don't want things built, period.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Public hearing today on the state construction budget

Construction projects mean jobs
As today's Hot Sheet indicates, there will be a public hearing at 1:30 today on the state construction budget, officially known as the capital budget.

Not sure what the capital budget is, exactly?  This previous post explains it pretty well.

The current capital budget is funded through June 30 of this year.  Legislators must come up with a new two-year construction budget for our state - along with new two-year transportation and operating budgets - that go into effect July 1, 2013.

Rep. Hans Dunshee
Because the capital budget funds construction projects all over the state, it also helps create and sustain jobs.  Last year, the supplemental capital budget and Jobs Now Act created 18,000 jobs, and many projects that are in progress right now.

The House Capital Budget committee is chaired by Rep. Hans Dunshee. You can follow the proceedings of today's hearing on TVW.

Read this story in Spanish here.