Saturday, March 9, 2013

Student-centered education legislation heading to Senate

Dropout prevention, STEM education, and closing the opportunity gap took center stage in the state House Friday as a package of education bills was approved and sent to the Senate.

“Our priorities are clearly best for all kids and our public schools,” said Rep. Marcie Maxwell, the Deputy Majority Leader for Education and Opportunity. “The House is focused on support for quality teaching and learning.  We’re working on strategic policy and budget decisions that make significant investments in education funding and ensure successful implementation of the real reforms we’ve recently enacted."

Here's the press release for the whole package, which includes these key bills:

HB 1276 creates a pilot program with school districts and community organizations, like food banks and small farms to target at-risk youth.

HB 1424aims to close the opportunity gap by providing families, schools, and communities with the tools they need to increase the number of on-time graduations. This bill will give local communities additional resources to detect early warning signs of a potential and intervene with appropriate measures.

HB 1872, creates a STEM Education Innovation Alliance made up of leaders from business and education fields. The alliance will align STEM education initiatives in early learning, K-12, and post-secondary education and is a key piece of Governor Inslee’s Working Washington agenda.

HB 1252 will create an online framework for professional development opportunities for educators in Washington.

HB 1283  will lower the age for compulsory school attendance from age eight to six. Washington is only one of two states where children are not required to be enrolled in an education program until age 8.

Read this story in Spanish.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Washington ahead of the curve in traffic safety

The National Conference of State Legislatures just released their latest report on statewide transportation policy, titled “Traffic Safety Trends: State Legislative Action 2012.”

Interested to see how Washington compares to the rest of the nation? Here are some of the highlights from the report and where our state stands:

Impaired Driving Issues

·       “In 2012, lawmakers in 44 states introduced more than 400 bills related to impaired driving.”
      Washington has introduced a variety of impaired driving, including stricter penalties for driving drunk with children in the car, stricter penalties for drive with a BAC above .15, and requiring ignition interlocks after the first DUI offense.

Distracted Driving

·        “Since 2000, legislatures in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have considered legislation related to distracted driving and driver cell phone use. In 2012, legislators in 36 states considered 165 driver distraction bills.
      Washington was one of the first states to pass legislation that prohibited texting while driving, sparking similar bills across the nation
S      Speed Limits
·        “In 2011, 23 states considered bills regarding speed, including increasing fines for speeding, setting speed limits, and punishing serious speeding offenders in school or work zones.”

·        Last year the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow municipalities to lower speed limits on certain neighborhood loans. It was not passed by the Senate, but a new version has been reintroduced this year by Representative Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline).

 Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

·         “Pedestrians and bicyclists are among the most vulnerable users of roadways. In 2012, 39 states considered more than 200 bills regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety.”

·        Washington has enacted multiple pieces of legislation to protect cyclists and pedestrians, including stricter penalties for vulnerable users and requiring bicycle and pedestrian safety training in driver’s education.

The full report is available online here.

Read this story in Spanish.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

House takes steps to increase voter participation

While many states across the country are trying to restrict access to the ballot box, the Washington House is moving in the opposite direction.  On Thursday, members passed a slate of bills that will improve voter participation and boost diversity among the men and women who hold elected office in our state.

Chief among those bills is the Voting Rights Act of 2013 which promotes equal voting opportunities and fairness in political subdivisions to improve representation of under-represented groups.  The bill empowers local communities that have had difficulties getting communitiy members elected at-large.

Other voter bills passed today:
  • HB 1267 changes registration deadlines to 11 days prior to Election Day.
  • HB 1279 allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they get their driver's license.  They will not be allowed to vot until they are 18, of course, but will be registered and ready.
  • HB 1195 expands the requirement that no primary be held when there are no more than two candidates filing for office to include all nonpartisan offices.
  • HJM 4001 requests Congress to enact a constitutional amendment returning authority to regulate election-campaign contributions to Congress and the state legislatures.  This Joint Memorial is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
Read this story in Spanish.


"Early Start" heading to Senate

Already a leader in the field of early learning, Washington state is poised to take another giant step toward preparing all kids for success in kindergarten and beyond under far-reaching legislation passed by the House last night.

House Bill 1723, by Rep. Ruth Kagi, creates a comprehensive system of early learning  that would be financed in large part by anticipated tax revenue from the 2012 legalization of marijuana under Initiative 502. 

“We want to give our kids – all our kids – a fair chance to achieve in school, and in life,” Kagi said. “Unfortunately, many 5-year-olds, especially from poor families, aren’t as well prepared for success as their more privileged classmates when they arrive at the kindergarten door. This ‘Early Start’ bill helps close that opportunity gap, which means more high-achieving and productive students, graduates and, ultimately, citizens of our state.”

Other bills in the families-and-children lineup approved Wednesday include:

HB 1671 expands the Working Connections Childcare Program that helps low-income families pay for child care while they work or look for work. It increases subsidies to keep pace with rising childcare costs and rewards providers who do an exceptional job caring for children. It passed 55-42.

HB 1285 requires a court to  appoint a lawyer to represent a child within 72 hours after the termination of the child’s relationship with his or her parents --  typically a prelude to foster care in cases of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Washington currently ranks 48th among the states in terms of legal representation for foster children. Children with legal representation spend less time in foster care, producing better outcomes for them and a savings for the state.

HB 1140 establishes a means for siblings to remain in contact if they are placed in different foster homes and cannot otherwise visit one another, provided a court determines that certain guidelines are met. It passed 64-33.

Read this story in Spanish.

Stanford's knack for numbers upgrades Caseload Forecast Council

State Rep. Derek Stanford's flair for figures will be put to great use in his new work as a member of a pivotal government panel. The Bothell lawmaker has been appointed to the Caseload Forecast Council (CFC), which occupies a strategic, albeit all-too-often-unsung standing in the construction of marching orders for state-government operations.
Meeting several times a year, the six-member CFC is charged with putting two and two together -- and then some. The council estimates how many folks will be using public services afforded by state government. Those figures are used to help develop a redoubtable document called the Omnibus Biennial Appropriations Act, more commonly known as the state operating budget.
The council looks at numbers for everything:

* Student-enrollment in public schools, colleges and universities.

* Recipients of public assistance.

* Incarcerated persons in prison or on probation.

* Citizens receiving long-term care, medical assistance, foster care, and adoption support.

"I’m looking forward to joining the work of the Caseload Forecast Council," Stanford said, "because as a legislator, I respect the critical position the council's efforts occupy in the budgeting process. I believe that my background in statistics and predictive modeling will give me an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution."

Stanford, who is vice chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, earned a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Washington. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in mathematics, both earned from Harvey Mudd College, and has worked as director of analytics for a telecom company and in fraud-detection in the mortgage industry.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Legislative town hall meeting may be coming to your neighborhood....

Next Saturday, March 16, is Legislative Town Hall Day -- and many Representatives and Senators will be coming home from Olympia to meet with constituents in person. 

These local meetings are an opportunity for you to ask questions and give input about the pressing issues in state government.

Here is the current list of town hall meetings scheduled by Democratic legislators right now. There may be additions later in the week -- if so, we will repost.

Adding capacity to the health care system

In coming years, Washington state’s health care providers will see an influx of new patients through both the expansion of the Medicaid program and the establishment of Washington Healthplanfinder – our state’s online health insurance exchange.

Today, the House of Representatives took action to make sure that our health care system is ready for this boom in business. From registered nurses to denturists, the bills approved will ensure that every Washingtonian has access to the provider they need.

A few of the capacity-improving measures include:

• HB 1155: will remove administrative barriers to patient care and support the transition to electronic care by allowing prescriptions to be issued electronically – promoting both safety and efficiency.
• HB 1271: will expand the types of services a licensed denturist may provide to include certain non-orthodontic removable oral devices – like sport mouth guards, bruxism devices and snoring devices.
• HB 1660: will streamline the administrative process for colleges and providers. By reducing unnecessary paperwork, we can train nurses and doctors in a more efficient and timely manner.
• HB 1538: willimprove access to critical prescription drugs at convenient locations around the state.

There is still a lot of heavy-lifting ahead in the health care arena this session, and the House will consider another package of health-related bills next week.

Read this stpry in Spanish.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Housing bills get legislative seal of approval

Public safety and consumer protection took center stage late yesterday  in a package of housing-related bills the House of Representatives sent across the rotunda for Senate consideration.
Topping the list was House Bill 1529. Involving the disclosure of information by landlords in the screening of potential tenants, the measure is aimed at preventing discrimination against the victims of domestic violence when they are seeking housing.

House Bill 1647 requires that landlords exercise appropriate care and safety when they are keeping copies of any master keys or duplicate keys for the dwellings they manage. Three years ago a maintenance man used a key from a landlord's office to enter a woman's apartment in Richland and sexually assaulted the tenant.
House Bill 1617 makes permanent the 2011-2013 caps set on administrative costs for the Housing Assistance Program and the Affordable Housing Program in the Department of Commerce. The goal in the bill is to ensure a steady and predictable stream of revenue for administering these programs.
House Bill 1170 updates the property-tax-exemption program to help make sure that folks on fixed incomes -- such as low-income senior citizens, as well as disabled veterans and other people in need -- aren’t being taxed out of their homes.
House Bill 1853clarifies that licensed real-estate brokers are independent contractors. State law would thus exempt real-estate brokers, managing brokers, and designated brokers from overtime requirements, unless a broker is specifically designated as an employee in his or her contract with a real-estate firm.

Read this story in Spanish.

Education the focus on day one of the floor marathon

With the first round of committee work concluded, the House of Representatives approved a series of education bills on Monday. Improving schools to build a better future for children is the top priority for House Democrats. Here’s a sample of what was approved yesterday:

HB 1178 opens the opportunity door for more highly-motivated students to explore the teaching profession by giving colleges of education more tools to recruit and admit potential teachers. The bill aims to put more quality teachers in Washington classrooms.

HB 1251 expands membership of the Opportunity Scholarship Board from seven to nine. Members of the board are tasked with, among other duties, raising funds for student scholarship programs. HB 1251 will help the board raise more funds, which will provide opportunities for more students to achieve the dream of a college education.

HB 1336 aims to address the second-leading cause of teen deaths in this country – suicide. HB 1336 is designed to save lives by requiring certain school staff members to receive youth suicide training. It also requires school districts to adopt a plan to recognize, screen, and respond when students show signs of emotional or behavioral distress.

HB 1536 requires community college boards of trustees to include a member from business and a member from labor, a successful practice that is already in place with our technical colleges.

HB 1812 will give greater flexibility on spending grant funds to schools taking part in the Urban Schools Turnaround Initiative. The project is designed to accelerate student learning and close the achievement gap through research-based techniques in two Seattle schools.

Read this story in Spanish.

Celebrating the women of the House!

Almost twenty years ago, President Clinton began the tradition of issuing a presidential proclamation every March in honor of Women’s History Month. Last week, President Obama issued his proclomation celebrating the contibutions women have made to our country. You can read the full proclomation here.

Washington state has a proud history of female leadership. In 1976, Washington elected Governor Dixy Lee Ray. Governor Ray was the fifth female governor in the United States, and only the second who wasn’t a wife or widow of a previous governor. Patty Murray became Washington’s first female senator in 1992. Finally, Washington became the first state to have both a female governor and two female senators in 2005.

Currently, 45 of Washington's 147 legislators are women. That equals out to about 30 percent, which makes us the 8th best state in terms of female representation.

18 of those 45 women call the House Democratic Caucus home. They come from places like Vancouver, Anacortes, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Seattle. They are nurses, teachers, veterinarians, former school board members, and attorneys.
They include a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a former defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, an accomplished guitar player, and a powerlifter. They are mothers and grandmothers - and have cats with names like Astrophe.

In the legislature, they are leading the fight to protect our priorities - providing for our schools and building a better future, quality and affordable healthcare, opportunity and skills for the real world, and investing in businesses and jobs for a secure middle class.
We appreciate the contributions this diverse group of women bring to our caucus every month of the year. However, in March we will take a little extra time to celebrate the women at the table, the struggles they overcame to get there, and the men who helped them along the way.
Read this story in Spanish.

Monday, March 4, 2013

“Sorry” just doesn’t cut it

Can you imagine getting charged with a horrible crime and spending almost two decades locked-up in prison until you're proven innocent thanks to DNA testing?
And what do you get once you're set free? Nothing. An apology, maybe.
Last Friday, the House Appropriations Committe passed a bill by State Rep. Tina Orwall that would bring justice to those wrongly convicted.
Read the full press release here.
Watch Rep. Orwall talk about House Bill 1341 in her latest video update:

You can also check out some of the media coverage on this issue:

Read this story in Spanish.