Saturday, February 23, 2013

Just a sunny Saturday in Olympia.......

The South Puget Sound got a lovely break in the weather today, but many of your legislators won't be taking advantage of that -- the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government has a lengthy agenda to get through before they go home this evening. 

The 2013 Legislative session is scheduled to be 105 days long, and that includes weekends. While the chambers haven't held weekend floor sessions yet this year, committee work - both public and behind-the-scenes - is a common weekend occurance.

Read this story in Spanish.

Friday, February 22, 2013

House approves Reproductive Parity Act

“We moved this legislation forward to continue Washington state’s proud history of staying out of people’s personal lives.” –Rep. Dean Takko on the passage of the Reproductive Parity Act
War on women? Not here in Washington.
While state legislatures across the country are turning back the clock on women’s health, House Democrats are moving Washington state forward as a leader in reproductive freedom.
Today, 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 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—which would require insurance companies to continue their current policy of covering a full range of reproductive choices. Introduced by House Health Care and Wellness Chair Eileen Cody, the bill ensures fairness and protects freedom in a woman’s health care decisions.
This morning a diverse group of lawmakers from across the state spoke in favor of the measure on the House floor.
Rep. Steve Tharinger spoke of growing up in a home with five sisters.
"These are independent, intelligent women," said Rep. Tharinger. "They do not want some bureaucrat in an insurance company, some politician, or even their brother telling them what to do with their health care."
Washington has long led the nation on this important issue. Two years before the U.S. Supreme Court made their landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, Washingtonians approved Referendum 20. R-20 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.
When given the opportunity to weigh-in, the voters of this state have always came down on the side of reproductive choice and privacy. By advancing the Reproductive Parity Act, House Democrats are working to ensure that the law in our state reflects this fact.

Read this story in Spanish.

Legislators put their couches to the test

Would you like some toxic chemicals with your couch?
Photo by L. Barnfather

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege and Sen. Sharon Nelson are sponsoring legislation to ban certain toxic chemicals from children's products and upholstered furniture.

Nicknamed the "Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act," the companion measures were making their way through the House and Senate, at least until this morning.

But keep hope alive:  tomorrow, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government will have a hearing on Van De Wege's bill, and if eventually voted out of that committee it will be just a step away from going to a vote before the full House.
In the meantime, the two legislators wanted to show just how prevalent these toxic chemicals are in upholstered furniture like couches. They authorized testing to be conducted on the couches in both of their legislative offices, and the results were revealed to KING 5's Gary Chittim in a recent special report.
During the KING 5 interview, Sen. Nelson held up a glass jar containing half a pound of sugar (see photo), representing the amount of the toxic chemical chlorinated Tris that is present in most residential couches. The chemical, a known carcinogen, ends up in household dust, where it is inhaled or ingested most often by babies and young children. It also poses a risk to firefighters, who are exposed to toxic fumes produced by these chemcials when responding to house fires.
As if that wasn't bad enough, independent testing commissioned by the Washington Toxics Coalition reveals these same toxic chemicals are prevalent in children's nap mats, which are often used in preschools and day care centers.
It doesn't have to be this way. The Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act gets our state off the toxic treadmill by taking these harmful chemicals out of furniture and children's products, and prohibiting equally toxic chemicals from being substituted in their place. 

Read this story in Spanish

DREAM Act passes committee, heads to vote in full House of Reps

The DREAM Act (House Bill 1817) passed the Higher Education Committee yesterday on a 14-4 vote.
The bipartisan bill – authored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila) and Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) – brought a full house of students and citizens on the day of its public hearing, with 110 people signed in to testify in favor of the reform and zero people signed up to testify against it.
Here's the video of Hudgins and Chandler testifying together and, below that, highlights of their remarks.

Parts of Rep. Bruce Chandler's testimony:
"I just want to say that, first of all, these are kids that have grown up in our communities, that have grown up in mine, have gone through our school system."
"I absolutely believe that every student who graduates from a Washington high school should be given the same opportunity."
Parts of Rep. Hudgins' testimony:
"As a kid, you just get uprooted with your parents, you don't have a lot of say in it. We're talking about kids who've chosen to go to college … who've worked hard."
"This really isn't a big deal. … We are simply leveling the playing field. These kids are on a path to citizenship. This is a small incremental step from a policy standpoint."
"For the students this affects, this is a big deal. … It makes college possible."
"I don't think you should underestimate that Rep. Chandler and I are sitting here together. This is not a partisan issue. It's a policy about our economic future. If we want to continue to sell apples and airplanes and software to the world, we need the best talent. It's good for the kids in Washington state … and good for our economic future. These are the kids who'll sell Washington to the world."
And here's Ben Crowther with the Washington Student Association, speaking on behalf of more than 120,000 college students in the state, during the public hearing on the bill:

Related post:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Improving the system for adopted children

Do you remember the horrific story of Hana Williams, an adopted Ethiopian girl living in Sedro-Woolley? A couple of years ago her adoptive parents starved her, abused her, beat her repeatedly and left her outside on a cold night, which ultimately killed her.
What is wrong with the system and how do we fix it to ensure the safety and well-being of adopted children in our state?

Rep. Mary Helen Roberts believes we can do better, so she's sponsoring a bill to do things right before adoptions go through to ensure children are going to safe and caring homes.

Watch the powerful testimony at the bill's hearing in the Judiciary Committee yesterday:

Read the press release here.

Read this story in Spanish.

Senator Patty Murray visits Olympia

U.S. Sen. Parry Murray, on break from heavy lifting in the other Washington, stopped by the House Wednesday to visit with Democratic lawmakers in this Washington. A former state senator, she was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, and last month took over as chair of the Senate Budget Committee – so she is no stranger to revenue gaps and deficits and the kind of thing much on the minds of Washington state legislators.

In a brief get-together with House Democrats, Murray heard from representatives worried about the potentially devastating economic effects of the so-called sequester – the looming automatic cuts to the federal budget that will be triggered if Congress fails to strike a budget deal by March 1. Given the depth of the partisan divide in Congress, Murray said reaching agreement on the budget will be a challenge. And while she said that reducing the federal deficit is a critical task, she emphasized the importance of investing in the middle class, and giving Americans the tools they need to succeed. That, she said, calls for robust support of education, transportation, and research and development.

Murray also stressed the urgency of winning reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which was ratified by the Senate earlier this month. And she emphasized her commitment to reforming and adequately financing education – two other subjects of paramount concern to her Olympia counterparts.

She exited as she arrived: to a standing ovation.

Neighborhood Safe Streets bill moving forward

The Neighborhood Safe Streets bill passed the House Wednesday on a vote of 86-10, moving one step closer to saving cities and counties money by allowing them to use their common sense.

Right now, local governments must pay for an engineering report to raise – or lower – speed limits. It makes sense for raising the limit, to ensure a road can handle higher speeds.

But it's a waste of time and money for state law to require engineering reports to lower a speed limit. Any road or highway can always handle lower speeds.

The legislation by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) cuts that red tape, which will save taxpayer dollars --and more importantly, save lives.

The Seattle Bike Blog does a great job explaining the bill:

"Speeds on such streets are most often 25 mph today. Studies show that a person struck by a car going 30 miles per hour has a 40 percent chance of dying. When the speed drops to 20 mph, the chance of dying drops to 5 percent. So while a few mph might seem like a small safety gain, it can actually be the difference between life and death."

This common-sense reform is now in the Senate, and you can track it by clicking here.

Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Connecting Washington – 2013 Transportation Package Unveiled

Rep. Judy Clibborn takes questions from the press
House Transportation committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) and members of the committee rolled out the details of the Connecting Washington transportation package, which would fund nearly $10 billion in transportation projects across the state.

In a press conference this afternoon, legislators and supporters from prominent business, labor, and environmental groups emphasized the role the package would play in growing Washington’s economy.

Rep. Clibborn noted that the proposal is the "starting point" of the discussion about how to fund critical transportation projects across the state, but that, "If we do nothing, we will watch [our transportation infrastructure] crumble."

Here is what the Connecting Washington package would accomplish:
  • Protect existing infrastructure through maintenance and operation work, road repairs, and funding to city and county governments to address local needs
  • Invest in new transportation projects  that reduce congestion and improve safety in every corner of the state
  • Improve freight mobility to help businesses move products to market more efficiently and affordably
  • Fully fund the Washington State Patrol to ensure our highways are safe and well taken care of
  • Provide transportation choices by empowering local and regional transit agencies, investing the bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements, and stabilizing the Washington State Ferry System
A hearing on the Connecting Washington Package is expected early next week in the House Transportation Committee.

Read this story in Spanish.

A Dreamer named Francisco tells his story

Francisco Rodriguez told a tough story with a smile and charm.
He came to Olympia yesterday to testify in favor of The Dream Act (House Bill 1817), by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila and co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.
The legislation is aimed at making college more affordable for undocumented students like Francisco, who's studying computer science at Eastern Washington University.
Francisco graduated from Sunnyside High School with a 3.7 GPA and struggled to pay for college.
"When I first started college," he told lawmakers on the committee, "I only had $3,000 in my pocket."
That money quickly ran out during his second quarter of studies at Eastern.
So he went back home to Sunnyside to pick cherries. His father also worked long hours picking in the fields, all to save up enough money to send Francisco back to college.
"I slept on couches," Francisco said. He got food from friends.
Then he got a $10,000 scholarship from Google, and another scholarship from Microsoft, and he hopes to intern at one of those companies.
The Dream Act, he told lawmakers, would help students like himself get the opportunity to finish school. The legislation would make undocumented students eligible for the state need grant, just like other college students in the state who can't afford to pay tuition out of pocket.
Francisco wasn't alone. The hearing room in Olympia was packed with supporters of the bill, with 110 people signed up to testify in favor of the bipartisan bill and zero signed up to testify against it.

Read this story in Spanish.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top market for contractors, oh yes we are!

And you don't have to take our word for it.

Take Ken Simonson's when he said that if he were a contractor looking at where in this country to open up operations, he would look at Puget Sound. As chief economist for the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, Simonson knows his business.

His quote comes from a February 4 story in the Daily Journal of Commerce focused on construction jobs and the economy around the nation. Turns out that last year 24 states added construction workers, 24 shed them and two had no change — but Washington state posted strong results.

According to the AGC, our state ranked third in construction jobs added over the year, with 9,000 people finding work. And we were tied for fourth in the percentage of new jobs added, at 6.5 percent. 

SR 520 bridge.  Photo: Wash. State Dept. of Transportation
And who's creating many of these jobs? Well, what do you know, it's the state!
That's right, with big projects like the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement and the new State Route 520 floating bridge.

So the next time you hear someone saying that government doesn't create jobs, invite them to read the Daily Journal of Commerce story for the facts. 

Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, February 18, 2013

It doesn't get any cuter than this in the legislature...

Once a year, normally in conjuction with Presidents' Day, the House celebrates Children's Day with a resolution on the House floor and speeches honoring children everywhere.

It is the only time during the legislative session that you'll see children on the House floor, sitting at (or on, or crawling under) legislators' desks.  Today's festivities also included a sing-along of three classic children's songs (Twinkle, Twinkle Litter Star, Pop Goes the Weasel, and She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain), led by Rep. Maureen Walsh and accompanied by HDC legislative assistant Marilyn Pedersen on fiddle.

So, here's your dose of cute for the week (or perhaps, for the session) - some photos from today's Children's Day celebration, and a video of Rep. Marcus Riccelli giving his floor speech honoring children, with his two-year-old son by his side.

For more Children's Day photos, check out our HDC Facebook page.

Read this story in Spanish.

How much do you know about this state you call home?

"A point in space that contains all other points; anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion."

That's a very brief description of the Aleph in a gripping short story written by Jorge Luis Borges in 1945, almost two decades before the birth of what would eventually become the Internet.

Granted, the World Wide Web is a funky and chaotic place, but like Borges' Aleph, it is a place where you can find just about everything. That includes things you're not even looking for, as is the case of this amusing little post on interesting facts about Washington state that we found by mere chance.

Surely, you do know we produce more apples than any other state in the union; in fact, the 2012 crop went through the roof. And you may well be aware that we have the most coffee bean roasters per capita, which is why Seattle is known as the coffee capital of the world. But you may not know that Washington is home to the largest slug in all of North America, including Mexico and Canada. Or how about this one: Father's Day was founded in Washington in 1910. Or, were you aware that there are only five really long floating bridges in the world and four of them are here in Washington?

It's a holiday, so take a short break and learn some more fun trivia about our state here and here.

Read this story in Spanish.