Friday, March 1, 2013

Rep. Habib named to board of Innovate Washington

Rep. Cyrus Habib
Rep. Cyrus Habib will draw upon his background in working with high-tech entrepreneurs in his new position on the board of directors of Innovate Washington, a public-private partnership that seeks to spur cutting-edge economic development in the state.
Habib, who was appointed to the board Feb. 28 by House Speaker Frank Chopp, said:
This is a great opportunity for me to continue my work making Washington the No. 1 state for job creation and business innovation. My work in the Legislature will be substantially enhanced through the connection with business leaders and others at Innovate Washington.
Innovate Washington was created by the Legislature in 2011 to catalyze job creation and 21st-century economic development by bringing together business and government leaders to focus expertise and investment on emerging technology businesses. It applies public and private financing to foster growth in the sectors of aerospace, advanced materials and manufacturing, clean energy, information technology, agriculture and life sciences.
Habib, a first-term legislator from Kirkland, is a lawyer at Perkins Coie in Seattle who specializes in providing legal services to high-tech startups. He is the sponsor of House Bill 1693, which seeks to attract entrepeneurs to Washington state by offering a business-tax break to new companies in targeted sectors of the economy.

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How do educators feel about armed teachers?

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary, lawmakers across the nation are responding with ideas to increase school safety. Here in Olympia, some lawmakers have proposed bills that would allow teachers to be armed in the classroom. While that bill (HB 1788) is not likely to pass, it does raise the question: how do teachers feel about guns in the classroom?

An online poll of 10,661 educators from all 50 states conducted by the School Improvement Network gives us an answer to that question.

The survey found that nearly three out of four teachers were unlikely to bring a firearm to the classroom if they were allowed to. It also found that only three out of ten teachers felt safe from gun violence in their school.

In other words, 69% of teachers believe gun violence could become a reality in their schools, but fewer than 30% were likely to arm themselves as a solution.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently weighed in on the issue telling reporters, "The vast majority of teachers have spoken pretty loudly and said they're not interested in being armed, so that's a red herring."

The survey also reveals how schools have increased security since the Sandy Hook shooting. A few of those include:

  • Locking doors from the inside
  • Practice lockdown drills more frequently
  • Extra security/police patrols
  • New security entrances
  • Require visitors to get a visitor's pass to be on campus
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Pitching for our troops when they come back home

It's been 35 years since Chico Escuela, Saturday Night Live's fictional baseball luminary portrayed so spot-on by Garrett Morris, first emphasized that "baseball has been berry, berry good to me." To paraphrase that timeless line, we think it's high time the nation was very, very good to its citizens in the Armed Forces, as well as our military veterans.

Legislation warming up in the bullpen here in the Washington State House of Representatives recently received an enthusiastic pitch from a pair of stalwart arms on the national scene.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, emphasized their support for the objectives contained in two legislative proposals that will soon be on the House floor. In their addresses the other day to a meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama and Biden both spoke of our duty to honor the rights and interests of citizens who have honored the call of duty to their country. Proposals contained in House Bill 1858 and House Bill 1859 emphasize this very goal.
Many military careers transition very well into a civilian job. If a veteran has stayed in the same career in his or her time in the service, he or she should get the benefit of the training and education received in the military. And when they're applying for civilian jobs after their service is up, they should certainly receive appropriate credit for their experience and military training.
"Support the Troops" has to be a lot more than just a bumper sticker.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where do those lottery dollars go, anyway?

Thirty years after the Washington State Lottery was created, there are still plenty of misconceptions on where the money goes.
In the 1970's, there were several attempts by the Legislature to create a state lottery that would have dedicated the revenues for education. A state lottery was finally authorized in 1982.
However, because the Legislature was dealing with a projected budget deficit that year, lawmakers elected to have lottery revenues go into the state's general fund. While education is the general fund's main expense, it's also used to pay for higher education, prisons, health care, and many other state services.
In 2000, voters approved a measure to direct lottery dollars specifically towards education. From 2004-09, lottery proceeds were used to renovate and remodel schools. In 2010, the Legislature re-directed lottery proceeds to the Opportunity Pathways Account, which supports access grants, work study awards, merit scholarships, and early learning programs.
Below is a chart that shows where lottery dollars went last year. Nearly 60% of the budget goes to pay prizes to the winners. After all, it wouldn't be much of a lottery if there isn't anything to win.

After prizes are paid out and other costs are accounted for, the lottery generates about $122 million for education. By comparison, state spending on K-12 and higher education is about $8 billion per year.
So, while lottery proceeds are an important part of education funding, they're only a small piece of the overall funding picture.
Washington Lottery Fun Facts:
  • The Washington State Lottery sold its first ticket in 1982.
  • Since then, it has paid almost $6.5 billion in prizes.
  • In fiscal year 2012, over 28 million winning tickets were issued ranging from $1 to $11 million.
Read this story in Spanish.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Recognizing our national heritage

The day after Thanksgiving will become much more than just a day to start holiday shopping and eat leftovers if a measure approved by the House makes it through the Senate next month. 

Washington took a big step toward becoming the latest state in the nation to officially designate every Friday after Thanksgiving Native American Heritage Day when the House approved HB 1014 by a vote of 93-4 earlier last week.

In 2008, then President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution by Congress in 2008 designating Friday, Nov. 28, 2008 as Native American Heritage Day. In 2010, President Barack Obama proclaimed November 2010 as Native American Heritage Month, and called for the country to celebrate November 26, 2010, the day after Thanksgiving, as Native American Heritage Day. As a reult of these presidential actions, several states have taken action to adopt the holiday on a permanent basis.

The measure's prime sponsor, Rep. John McCoy, stressed that the bill doesn't cost a cent but does recognize the rich cultural history, sacrifices and contributions of the first residents in our nation.

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What should we do with children who commit horrible crimes?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory life terms are unconstitutional when applied to children; children sentenced to prison must be given a real opportunity for release at some point in the future; and courts must individually evaluate each child when imposing a criminal sentence.
Does our state comply with these rulings? If not, what steps should we take?

The answers may be in an opinion piece "Give juvenile offenders a chance at redemption," in this weekend's Everett Herald. It was authored by Rev. Paul Benz, Co-Director of Faith Action Network, Sr. Sharon Park, Executive Director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, and State Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, a Lynnwood Democrat who is sponsoring a measure about juveniles sentenced to long terms of incarceration.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Zero, zip, nada driving fatalities for teens ages 16 - 17 in first half of 2012

While teen driving fatalities were up nearly 20 percent nationally in the first half of 2012, here in Washington no lives were lost behind the wheel among 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
That's according to the preliminary Teenage Driver Fatalities by State Report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The good news might have something to do with the fact that Washington has the highest seat-belt use rate in the nation.
Or perhaps it's because last year 46 schools across our state signed up for the Distracted Driving grant project offered by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and State Farm Insurance. Program Manager Jonna VanDyk said they expect about twice as many schools to participate in 2013.
Whatever the reason, we're lifting our water/soda/juice glasses and cheering "hear, hear!" for Washington's smart teen drivers.

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Washington elections website receives top marks

​A new report released by the Center for Governmental Studies looked at the elections websites for each state and found that Washington was the third best in the nation.
The report assessed how effective each elections website was in providing detailed and accessible information on candidates, ballot measures, audio/video of debates, sample ballots, etc. Washington was the only state to receive a “B” grade, putting it behind the only “A” states: Alaska and California.
Here is what they said about the Washington Secretary of State’s election page:
“Washington’s state election website provides much of the candidate information voters need to make informed decisions at the ballot box. The site provides voters with candidate lists, candidate photos, elected experience, other professional experience, education, community service, platform statements, phone numbers and email.”
Our performance is even more impressive considering how poorly other states fared. Around the country, elections websites were rather dismal. 42 states received “F” grades for their elections websites, and the “D” grades made up the next five.

You can read the full report from the Center for Government Studies here.

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Sequester on your street corner

Last week, Senator Patty Murray visited with House Democrats and discussed some of the effects of sequester - the looming automatic cuts to the federal budget that will be triggered if Congress fails to strike a budget deal by March 1st.
This week, the White House released more detailed information on what these automatic cuts would mean for Washington state.
Among the low-lights:
  • Washington will lose approximately $11,606,000 in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 160 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 11,000 fewer students would be served ad approximately 50 fewer schools would recieve funding.
  • Washington will lose about $3,301,000 in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality...
  • About 440 fewer low income students in Washington would recieve aid to help them finance the costs of college.
  • In Washington, approximately 29,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $173.4 million in total.
  • Washington will lose approximately $1,053,000 in funds that provides meals for seniors.
For the complete list of potential cuts, follow this link.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Washington leading the fight against human trafficking

We tend to think that human trafficking and modern-day slavery happen only in distant third-world countries, not here in America.

But they do, more than any of us can imagine. Consider Susana Blackwell, from the Philippines, who was killed by her husband right outside Seattle's King County courtroom in 1995. And Anastasia King, from the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyztan, who was murdered just north of Seattle in 2000, also by her husband. Both women came to Washington believing they had found happiness.
Human trafficking is happening right here, right now. A recent story comes from a survivor, Yasmin Christopher, born in Bangladesh, who endured childhood hardship and abuse when members of her family were held captive on a remote farm by her father. Read her story in this February 16 Seattle Times report.
According to a 2009 United Nations study, it is very difficult to assess the real size of human trafficking because it takes place underground, and is often not even identified. But a conservative estimate puts the number of victims at any one time at 2.5 million. Sexual exploitation is the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%), followed by forced labor (18%).
Human trafficking is an enormous and widespread problem, but Washington and other states have taken important steps to prevent it. In fact, Washington passed 28 laws from 2002 to 2012 to fight human trafficking, modern-day slavery and sexual exploitation of children, making us the leader among all states in addressing this issue. Some of those laws:
To learn more about these and the rest of the 28 laws passed in our state so far, please click here.

All those laws took a lot of time, work and collaboration among lawmakers, law enforcement agencies and stakeholders, but they are making a difference. We’re far from done, however, so in this legislative session, Rep. Tina Orwall is working on two new measures to continue helping victims of human trafficking:
  • HB 1291 builds on last year’s HB 2692. Under this year’s legislation, fees from impounded vehicles involved in prostitution-related offenses would be directed to local governments to reduce the commercial sale of sex through more enforcement and rehab services for victims.
  • HB 1292 would allow victims of trafficking forced into prostitution to clear their records of related convictions. This legislation passed the House today on a  91-1 vote. 
Watch the January 31st public hearing on these two bills:
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Welcoming a wide variety of visitors to the 2013 Legislature

Legislators are always happy to welcome visitors from neighborhoods and communities all across Washington. Private citizens, students and teachers, businesspeople, local-government and civic officials, specific-interest stakeholders -- you name it, folks from all over our Evergreen State come by every day to give Olympia a piece of their mind. And rightly so!

A young gentleman named Daniel Gronvold, for instance, dropped in recently for a very good conversation with State Rep. Jake Fey. Daniel is a client at Trillium Employment Services and talked with Rep. Fey about legislation being considered this year that involves the School-to-Work transition program. The legislative proposal, which is contained in Senate Bill 5706 and House Bill 1753, directs the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to set up some important interagency agreements involving the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Services for the Blind, and other state agencies whose mission embraces transition services for high-school students with disabilities.

Trillium, according to their website, helps businesses recruit, train and retain employees with disabilities, and currently serves King, Kitsap, Pierce and Clark Counties.

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"House Majority Report" joins "Capitol Ideas" in HDC podcast lineup

​We’re happy to announce that a new feature has joined the HDC audio lineup. The House Majority Report is a weekly, bite-sized (three-to-five minutes) conversation with a member of House Democratic Caucus leadership about current legislative issues. Look for it here every Friday during session, or subscribe to our RSS feed. The Report is also available on iTunes; just search for Washington State House Majority Report. (While you’re at it, give a listen to Capitol Ideas, our long-running podcast series featuring longer-form interviews with Democratic lawmakers talking about a wide range of subjects.)

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